Iraq is offering to let relatives visit foreign captives for the holidays, but the White House demanded Thursday that the Baghdad government let them come home instead.
Iraq is holding hundreds of Westerners at strategic installations as shields against a feared attack. In letters released Thursday by a U.S. official, two of the captive Americans described their isolation and anxiety. "You can survive. But individually interned, (one) must be psychologically capable of living alone within himself," said one of the letters.
It ended with a plea: "Please do not forget the guest hostages." Iraq refers to the captives as guests.
The names of the letter-writers were not released for security reasons. The letters were brought to the U.S. Embassy by non-American foreigners, said an official.
President Bush, in a speech in Burlington, Mass., said Thursday the United States and the world community were "united in anger and outrage" at the treatment of hostages by Iraq's "brutal dictator," Saddam Hussein.
A spokesman for the Iraqi government insisted Wednesday that diplomats in Kuwait and other foreigners in Iraq and Kuwait were "well-treated and all receive good care."
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, asked about Iraq's offer to allow holiday visits by families of hostages, said: "Why doesn't he (Saddam) let the hostages come home? That would be the best way - or better yet, Thanksgiving."
The Iraqi offer on Wednesday came just hours after Bush said he was fed up with the treatment of American diplomats in occupied Kuwait. Iraqi troops are trying to starve them out of the U.S. Embassy.
Bush said Thursday he still hoped for a peaceful solution to the gulf crisis but insisted "there will be no compromise" on the United Nations demands for a complete withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
The White House, meantime, was silent on comments made Wednesday night by Vice President Dan Quayle, who said it was not enough to force Saddam out of Kuwait. He said the world cannot allow the Iraqi leader to keep his arsenal of chemical weapons and ballistic missiles.
"We would have to go beyond that if those objectives would be achieved because you cannot simply allow Saddam Hussein to have this military power and have the technology into the future," the vice president said in an interview on "The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour."
A Soviet envoy who met twice last month with Saddam says the Iraqi president is more open to a peaceful settlement than he was in early October.
Yevgeny Primakov also said Wednesday that Iraq agreed that 2,500 Soviet citizens can leave Iraq before the end of November. He said 34 Soviet military experts were flying home to Moscow Thursday.
Meanwhile, a published report today quoted U.S. officials as saying that if there is an allied assault on Kuwait by sea, Iraq plans to blow up several oil tankers. The report in the Washington Times said three tankers are anchored near the Saudi Arabian coast, and there may be others as well. The information was attributed to Pentagon, military and intelligence officials, who were not named.
In Washington, oil experts told U.S. lawmakers that the outbreak of war over Iraq's refusal to relinquish Kuwait could triple oil prices to $100 a barrel - causing gasoline prices to rise to $3 a gallon.
The offer of holiday visits for the hostages, which came Wednesday from an Information Ministry spokesman in Baghdad, was branded by Britain's Foreign Office on Wednesday as "a cynical propaganda move."
"It's probably just another psychological ploy," said Dawn Bazner, whose husband, Mark, was videotaped early in the crisis asking Saddam to let foreign women and children go.
"I'm hoping that we won't have to visit (Mark) there . . . but if it comes down to it, I will go," she said in Palm Desert, Calif.
The Iraqi spokesman said foreigners were not being mistreated.
"The safety of all diplomatic prem-ises and staff and the American Embassy in Baghdad and the former American Embassy in Kuwait are guaranteed," he said.
"We have said time and time again there is no reason for those embassies to be there," Ambassador Mohamed Sadiq al-Mashat said during a news conference at the Iraqi embassy in Washington.
"We seek to avoid bloodshed," he said. "We once more call for a negotiated solution, to have a political and diplomatic solution. We'd like to establish good relations with the United States."