President Bush told American troops they will be stationed in the Persian Gulf until Saddam Hussein is out of Kuwait and warned that every day Saddam is closer to "his goal of a nuclear weapons arsenal."

Bush, spending Thanksgiving Day with U.S. forces in the gulf, told military personnel in three separate speeches that they are there to send a message to "any would-be Saddam Husseins that the world will not tolerate tyrants."In his final speech, Bush told some 1,500 U.S. Marines, Navy SeaBees and British "Desert Rats" gathered in the sand under a midafternoon sun, "We want every single troop home. We want every Brit to be able to go home as soon as possible. We want every single American home.

"And this I promise," Bush added. "No American will be kept in the gulf a single day longer than necessary, but we won't pull punches. We are not here on some exercise. This is a real world situation. And we're not walking away until our mission is done, until the invader is out of Kuwait and that may well be where you come in."

His remarks were greeted with enthusiastic cheers and one soldier was heard to say, "Well, let us do it."

Bush also warned about a Saddam armed with nuclear weapons.

"Every day that passes brings Saddam one step closer to realizing his goal of a nuclear weapons arsenal," Bush said, standing in front of military tanks, trucks and jeeps. "And that's why more and more your mission is marked by a real sense of urgency. You know, no one knows precisely when this dictator may acquire atomic weapons or exactly who they may be aimed at down the road, but we do know this for sure, he's never possessed a weapon that he didn't use."

Earlier Bush said the 230,000 U.S. military personnel stationed in the gulf have "spearheaded what history will judge as one of the most important deployments of military power in the last half century.

"You've done it for principle," said Bush, the first president to visit front-line U.S. troops since Richard Nixon's trip to South Vietnam in 1969. "You've done it for freedom and you've done it to make America proud. And so I've come out here today, personally, to thank you the men and women who have endured much and sacrificed more to stand tall against aggression.

"Simply put, we are here to guarantee that freedom is protected and that Iraq aggression will not be rewarded," Bush said to cheers.

The president sent a strong message to Saddam: "I say today, free the hostages, all the hostages and free them today or you are going to pay the price."

Bush arrived in the Saudi desert after several days of pressing a diplomatic effort to solidify and build on the international coalition against Iraq. The president had lobbied for a U.N. resolution to authorize military force against Iraq if Saddam does not unconditionally withdraw his troops from Kuwait.

On Wednesday, Bush was greeted by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and began a series of critical meetings with Middle Eastern leaders, including a session Friday with Syria's President Hafez Al-Assad in Geneva.

Bush met first at the spectacular al-Hambra Palace with the exiled emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jabir al-Alhmad al-Jabir al-Sabah, and later with Fahd.

Bush said he came away from the meeting with the emir "more committed than ever" to the stand against Saddam and predicted that further action by the United Nations, possibly a resolution allowing the use of force against Iraq, would soon be forthcoming. U.S. officials said work on generating enough support for a resolution is an "ongoing process" that was "making progress."

Secretary of State James Baker, also touring the Middle East, warned against the "siren song of partial solutions" and rejected the idea of any concessions and restated that nations aligned against Iraq "should not rule out force" as an option. "We have to make it a credible option and a political option," said Baker, who traveled to Yemen while Bush shared traditional turkey and trimmings with the troops in Saudi Arabia.

Yemen later this month assumes the chairmanship of the U.N. Security Council, which has passed 10 resolutions condemning Iraq for its Aug. 2 invasion and subsequent occupation of Kuwait and has imposed economic sanctions.

Bush refused to discuss specifics of a new move, but he noted U.S. efforts to date to win backing for a force resolution. "I would expect that there would be yet another resolution strongly against Saddam Hussein," Bush said.

Bush also said the emir had shown him more pictures "of the treatment of Kuwaitis so cruel and so brutal that it just turns your stomach."

The president's remarks followed a White House announcement that Bush would meet with Assad, long a thorn in the U.S. side for his support of terrorists but an ally in the gulf standoff. (See analysis on A14.)



Holiday message

American hostages in Iraq have addressed a Thanksgiving message to those celebrating the holiday in the United States:

"On this most traditional of American holidays, we would like to extend our best wishes to all (those) who are about to enjoy our national feast.

"The main ingredients of this deeply meaningful dinner - freedom and justice - are very special, and are not available everywhere..

"So please sit down with your families and friends and enjoy this very special meal. Take a bite and savor the flavor of liberty. It will be the finest meal you'll ever have.

"This is a meal that only an American can fully appreciate. Unfortunately, we are not free to enjoy the full flavor of our Thanksgiving meal while being held in Iraq, against our will."

-American hostages (Baghdad).