Tense times for Kuwait's man in Washington: with bombs falling in Kuwait's backyard, Salem Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah the country's ambassador to Washingon--nervously follows CNN television news, worried about the effect this latest conflict will have on his country.

Author:Luxner, Larry

"I'm glued to the phone, much more than the TV, calling officials and friends back home, getting first-hand information. My chief concern is for Kuwaiti citizens who are here in the US," Salem Al Sabah explained. "We've established hotlines and networks to be able to inform them of every single development. They are my first priority."

Al Sabah, who looks much younger than his 45 years, is a member of the Al Sabah dynasty that has ruled Kuwait since 1759. Before taking up his post in the US in August 2001, he was Kuwait's ambassador to South Korea. He also served from 1991 to 1998 at various positions within Kuwait's mission to the United Nations in New York, and from 1986 to 1991, he worked at his country's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"Ever since I was a teenager, I have had an interest in politics," Al Sabah says. "When people my age were reading comics, I was picking up newspapers and following the news.

Al Sabah earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in political science from the American University in Beirut, and he speaks Arabic, English and French. In his current job, he oversees 20 embassy staff including seven diplomats.

Just in case there is any doubt where Kuwait's loyalties lie, hanging in the embassy's reception area is a 1991 framed front page from The Washington Times with the headline of the day in big bold type: WE WON!

The ambassador was at home in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein's troops invaded on 2 August 1990. He then fled to Saudi Arabia, where he joined his government in exile.

Al Sabah says that during the ensuing Iraqi occupation, which lasted until 26 February 1991, Kuwait suffered "mass murder, mass looting, mass destruction and mass rape" at the hands of Iraqi soldiers. "We still have 605 people missing since the Gulf War. You may think this is a small number, but it represents one in every 1,300 Kuwaitis. On an American scale, that would be like a quarter of a million Americans missing."

Yet he emphasises, "We have never had a grudge against the Iraqi people. We've always said our quarrel is with the Iraqi government."

At the height of the Iraqi invasion, Saddam declared Kuwait "the 19th province of Iraq." Following the war, such rhetoric died down and Kuwait demanded that the UN guarantee its territorial integrity.

"In 1993, the UN established a commission to demarcate the border between Iraq and Kuwait," says Al Sabah. "That commission relied on historical documents dating back to the Ottoman Empire, and made...

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