Iraq said Wednesday it would free 120 more hostages, most of them Germans but including a few Americans, and 74 Japanese nationals flew to freedom after three months of captivity in Iraq.
The official Iraqi News Agency said 100 Germans would be freed at the intervention of former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who met with President Saddam Hussein Wednesday.The report said the move reflected the Baghdad government's "appreciation for the German policy which does not support trends toward war."
It said 20 hostages of other nationalities would be freed as well, including an unspecified number of Americans, Britons, Italians and others.
The announcement did not say when they would be freed.
But the release of the Japanese hostages who left Baghdad Wednesday had been announced only a day earlier.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III, meanwhile, said the use of military force against Iraq cannot be ruled out. Baker is on a weeklong mission sounding out allies on their willingness to go to war. He was in Turkey Wednesday and will stop in Moscow, Paris and London.
He told reporters in Ankara that the United States seeks a peaceful solution to the gulf crisis. But he added that "we cannot rule out the possible use of force before we see that the matter is resolved peacefully."
Baker also denied reports he gave Iraq an ultimatum to get out of Kuwait in the next two weeks. The reports by Israel army radio and stations in Luxembourg and Monte Carlo said Baker had asked his Chinese counterpart, Qian Quichen, to tell Saddam Hussein that U.S. forces would attack if he didn't comply. Baker met with Qian in Cairo, Egypt, on Tuesday.
Iraq seized oil-rich Kuwait on Aug. 2 and then annexed it. The United Nations responded by mandating an embargo on trade with Iraq and ordering it responsible for war damages.
In another development, Kuwait's exiled premier called Wednesday on the United States to unleash its military might against Iraq without delay and rejected any territorial compromise with Saddam Hussein.
"The only option available now is the military one, because the Iraqi regime has insisted not only on challenging the will of the international community, but also continues to hold the foreign hostages," Kuwait's exiled Premier Sheikh Saad al Abdullah al Sabah told the Bahraini daily Al Ayam.
The remarks by Sheikh Saad, who doubles as crown prince, confirmed the exiled Kuwaiti royal family was losing patience with U.N. economic sanctions and other peaceful methods to try and oust Iraq from Kuwait, preferring the military option instead.
Arab newspapers said other pro-Kuwaiti states such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Morocco have not approved a first-strike option against Baghdad and prefer to exhaust economic sanctions before contemplating war.