CARACAS, Venezuela – Cuban leader Fidel Castro said he repeatedly warned Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait after the 1990 invasion but that the former Iraqi dictator's "mistakes" did not justify the U.S.-led war.
Castro, who was in Venezuela for one day to meet with leftist President Hugo Chavez (search), said he tried on numerous occasions to persuade Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait, warning the Iraqi leader that, not just Western countries, but also Arab nations, would turn against him.
Castro called Saddam's invasion of Iran "absolutely unjust," during an interview late Monday with Venezuela's state-run television station, Venezolana de Television.
"The other big mistake that never should have been made was the occupation of Kuwait," he added, wearing his olive-green fatigues for the interview on Venezuela's La Orchila island.
"We made great efforts [to persuade Saddam] to rectify," he said.
Castro said he sent two letters to Saddam to try to "persuade him that it was a mistake and he should withdraw" from Kuwait "or there would be a war with a coalition [of] Arabs, NATO, Muslims, everyone because Kuwait was a country recognized by the United Nations."
In the 1980s, Saddam waged an eight-year war against Iran (search) that killed hundreds of soldiers on both sides. He invaded Kuwait in 1990 but a U.S-led coalition drove his army out.
But Castro said the American-led pre-emptive strike had imposed an international "law of the jungle."
"What protection is there for medium, small countries?" said the communist leader, who has accused the United States of seeking a pretext to invade Cuba. "They haven't even found weapons of mass destruction."
Chavez sat in on the interview, hugging and thanking Castro at the end.
In a visit surrounded by secrecy, Chavez and Castro discussed joint initiatives to provide health care and education for the poor. Until the interview, there had been no official confirmation of where the two leaders met.
"The encounter was very lovely. We ate Cuban food for lunch and had a Venezuelan breakfast," Chavez told reporters. "There wasn't an important issue we didn't touch."
It was Castro's fourth visit to Venezuela since Chavez took office in 1999. Previous visits between Chavez and Castro had been more public, with the two leaders playing baseball together, hosting a talk show and celebrating birthdays.