Iraq said Tuesday it was ready to destroy its vast arsenal of chemical weapons and other weapons of mass destruction if Israel were to do the same, and the United States sent an aircraft carrier into the Persian Gulf.
The announcement was one of a string of seemingly conciliatory messages from Iraq since President Saddam Hussein said in a speech Sunday that he was willing to consider a French peace plan that called for the complete withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait.The Pentagon, meanwhile, sent the aircraft carrier USS Independence into the Persian Gulf Tuesday, where U.S. warships have been damaged by Iraqi missiles and Iranian mines in recent years.
The Independence, the first carrier sent into the waterway since 1974, carries a crew of about 5,000 and some 75 combat planes, including F-14 Tomcat and F/A-18 Hornet fighters.
Navy leaders refused to send carriers into the gulf during the escort operation involving Kuwaiti tankers in 1987, arguing the huge ships would be a large target in a small area and were at risk of being bottled up.
In another development, a French frigate off the coast of Djibouti fired Tuesday across the bow of a North Korean merchant ship that refused to stop for inspection in compliance with the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq, sources said.
Navy sources in Paris said the frigate Doudart de Lagree, patrolling in the strait of Bab El-Mandeb, connecting the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden near the Arabnian Sea, initially gave a verbal warning and fired blank warning shots at the cargo ship Sam Il Po.
When the ship failed to respond, the frigate blasted a warning shot from close range across its bows and the vessel subsequently stopped. A French inspection party boarded the vessel.
It was not immediately clear what the ship's cargo contained. The U.N. Security Council, in response to Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, has barred all trade with Baghdad except for humanitarian shipments of food and medicine.
On Monday, the U.S. House went on record in support of the administration's actions so far in the gulf. The House approved a resolution applauding the deployment of troops urging Bush to "continue to emphasize the use of diplomatic and non-military means" to resolve the crisis. Utah's three representatives voted for the measure.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak charged in remarks published Tuesday that Saddam held covert talks with Israel and that his occupation of Kuwait helped the Jewish state by giving it a pretext to refuse to withdraw from Lebanon and the occupied territories.
Mubarak also told French television that Saddam had never exerted any effort to solve the Palestinian problem until the multinational response to the invasion of Kuwait backed him against a wall, according to news reports in Egypt.
Saddam said Sunday in a speech to honor the Prophet Mohammed's birthday, celebrated throughout the Moselm world Tuesday, that he would be willing to consider the French peace plan because he wanted to see a regional effort to solve the Palestinian problem.
Analysts say that by linking his withdrawal from Kuwait with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza strip, Saddam hopes to emerge from the crisis as a hero to the Arab world rather than a loser forced out of the tiny emirate by the U.N.-imposed economic embargo and the U.S.-led multinational military force in the region.