Iraq's Saddam Hussein has recorded a message to the American people, and his government has asked that it be broadcast by television networks in the United States, the Iraqi News Agency reported Thursday.
The state-run agency quoted Information Minister Latif Nassyif Jassim as saying "concerned American personalities have been contacted and asked to take delivery of the tape for broadcasting on American television channels."He did not provide any detail of the message, which is clearly a response to one made by President Bush that was broadcast by Iraqi television on Sunday.
Jassim said the Iraqi government still has not received a response to the request "made on the basis of reciprocal treatment."
But if the United States blocks the attempt, Jassim said, "The concerned Iraqi authorities will find alternative ways to transmit the message to the American people through international television stations."
He did not say when Saddam's message was taped or give its length.
Bush's address to the Iraqis was eight minutes long. It was taped at the White House and delivered with Arabic subtitles and an Arabic-language voice-over. The full text was broadcast on Iraqi television.
Since the start of the Persian Gulf crisis, Saddam's messages have been read by a veteran Iraqi announcer, Mikdad Morad, on state television and radio, and not by the Iraqi leader himself.
U.S. officials have complained about the broadcast time given to Saddam's messages and staged appearances with Western hostages - particularly by the all-news American network CNN. Diplomats say the broadcasts have helped garner support for Iraq in the Persian Gulf standoff, especially among radical Arab masses.
The Pentagon had some good news for the more than 150,000 U.S. soldiers, sailors and airmen already in and around Saudi Arabia. Defense Secretary Dick Cheney on Wednesday approved "imminent danger pay" of $110 a month for them, retroactive to Sept. 1.
"In recognition of the sacrifices our military men and women are making, I have directed the payment of this supplemental benefit to the troops on the front lines," Cheney said. "This is an appropriate step given the risks they face and the harsh conditions in which they serve."
Cheney had been pressed by many members of Congress to improve benefits for the troops, noting complaints from soldiers in Saudi Arabia that they lost their subsistence pay of about $180 a month when they were shipped out of their home bases.
Thousands more Army National Guard and Army Reserve members from 27 states and the District of Columbia are being called to active duty. None of the units involved are from Utah.
Maj. Doug Hart, a Pentagon spokesman, said there was no available estimate of the number of reservists affected by Wednesday's Army call-up.
In San Francisco, Bush warned Saddam the United States will take tougher action against Iraq if sanctions and diplomacy fail to work. He said demands for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait were non-negotiable.
In a speech winding up a two-day campaign trip, the president called anew for Iraq to withdraw its invading army from Kuwait, restore the country's exiled leaders and release all foreign hostages.
"If Iraq does not meet these non-negotiable conditions," Bush said, "then its isolation will not end. And we are, as I've said before, prepared to take additional steps."
Three Arab leaders met in Rabat Thursday to discuss an Arab peace plan that calls for the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and the establishment of a Kuwaiti government that does not include the ruling al-Sabah family, sources and Arab news reports said.
The six-part plan also calls for Iraqi annexation of two strategic islands in the Persian Gulf that are considered part of Kuwait, which Iraq invaded Aug. 2.
King Hussein of Jordan, King Hassan of Morocco and Algerian President Chedli Benjidid were expected to discuss the Arab peace initiative at the three-day mini-summit in the Moroccan capital.
The Jordanian newspaper al-Destour said nine Arab countries had already approved the peace initiative, but the report could not be verified.
Iraq would retain the two Kuwaiti islands and the right to use Kuwaiti territorial waters. The Kuwaiti people would choose a new government, on the condition it did not include the ruling al-Sabah family, the reports said.
Members of the Kuwaiti government-in-exile dismissed the plan Wednesday and it was not known how the United States and other powers would respond to it.
Meanwhile, the push for an air embargo against Iraq has gathered momentum with an agreement by the five key U.N. Security Council members to limit cargo flights into Baghdad to those carrying medicine and humanitarian food aid.
British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, France and China had agreed to extend the trade embargo against Iraq to air traffic.
"We know there is a need to have an air embargo and a need to have it enforceable," she told a news conference in Budapest, Hungary. The resolution is expected to be put to a vote in the 15-member council on Friday or Saturday, diplomats said.
In Jerusalem, Israeli sources said Defense Minister Moshe Arens secured a U.S. leasing agreement for F-15 jets and Patriot missiles.
The deal came out of Arens' meetings in Washington this week with Cheney, during which the Israeli defense minister told U.S. officials his country needed $1 billion in emergency military aid and $750 million more in annual defense funds.
Israel sources told The Jerusalem Post that Cheney and Arens agreed on the leasing of 15 F-15A and F-15B warplanes, two Patriot anti-aircraft and anti-missile batteries and 10 CH-3 cargo helicopters.
Israel has consistently maintained it must not lose its qualitative military edge in the region. Last week, Saudi Arabia informally notified Congress of its intent to purchase about $20 billion in sophisticated aircraft, advanced armored vehicles and missiles.