President Bush returned home early Saturday after conferring separately with the presidents of Egypt and Syria, enlisting crucial Arab support for his intensifying drive to expel Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
The president's Boeing 747 jet touched down at Andrews Air Force Base just outside Washington, D.C., at 1:04 EST. Bush immediately boarded a helicopter to fly to Camp David, Md., for the weekend.The White House had emphasized that no "partial solutions" to the Persian Gulf were acceptable and Bush said he was "very very close" to rounding up the support he wants for a United Nations resolution authorizing the use of force.
Even without a U.N. vote, he said, "we have the authority to do what we have to do" to counter Iraq's Saddam Hussein.
Nevertheless, before leaving for home, Bush devoted the final day of an eight-day overseas journey to diplomatic sessions with Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, his most solid Arab ally in the Persian Gulf crisis, and with Hafez Assad of Syria, his most improbable. Syria is viewed by the United States as a sponsor of terrorism, and Bush's meeting with Assad was the first in 13 years between presidents of the two nations.
Assad sidestepped a question of whether Syrian forces would fight alongside Americans in an offensive operation. But the statement issued by the White House said the two men agreed the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait is unacceptable and the "legitimate government (of Kuwait) must be restored fully."
Brent Scowcroft, Bush's national security adviser, described the president's session with Assad as "pretty good, pretty tough."
Asked if his opposition to Iraq's occupation meant he would support the use of force, Mubarak said, "By all means."
A White House statement said Bush and Assad discussed human rights and "had an extended conversation of the question of terrorism."
It also said Bush asked for Syria to help win the release of American hostages held in Beirut. Among them is Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent for The Associated Press, who was taken captive in 1985.
In addition, the two men discussed the overall Middle East peace process and the "importance of moving ahead" with U.N. resolutions addressing the Palestinian issue, the White House statement said.
Bush made his diplomatic rounds as Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole, returning from the Middle East, said he would urge Congress to reconvene immediately if the United Nations endorsed the resolution on force against Iraq and that he hoped Congress would take similar action.
But Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, who accompanied Dole, said a yes vote in the United Nations would not necessarily guarantee one on Capitol Hill. "It would depend upon the circumstances that exist at the time," the Maine Democrat said.
Shortly before Bush flew home, a Soviet official at the United Nations said the Security Council would convene next week.
After Bush left Geneva, the White House complained that Swiss security officers had shoved a machine gun into the stomach of a U.S. diplomat and roughed up a photographer traveling with the president. White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said the United States would file a formal protest with the Swiss government over the incidents, which occurred at the base of the steps to Air Force One.
The hastily arranged Geneva trip was the final stop on a five-nation, eight-day trip for Bush that began in Europe, where East and West joined together to bury the Cold War, and culminated in a Thanksgiving dinner with the troops in Saudi Arabia.
Bush used much of his time overseas to mount an aggressive diplomatic campaign for a United Nations resolution authorizing force in the Persian Gulf.
Mubarak was unequivocal in his declaration on Kuwait.
"The Iraqi invasion must be reversed and Kuwait must be liberated," the Egyptian leader said. "For both of us it's a matter of principles and moral courage."
Said Bush: "We're tired of the status quo and so is the rest of the world."
Their meeting was a session between longtime allies, and Mubarak has been a key Arab partner in the international coalition to force Iraq out of Kuwait.
Bush's other diplomatic meeting of the day seemed more awkward, yet demonstrated the lengths the president is willing to go to force Iraq's withdrawal.
At a joint news conference, Bush and Mubarak both made it clear that they intend to work to win the approval of the United Nations Security Council of a resolution authorizing force against Iraq.
The president's diplomatic drive received a setback on Thursday, when Secretary of State James A. Baker III was frustrated in efforts to get backing from Yemen, the only Arab nation on the 15-member U.N. Security Council.
Yemen's president, Gen. Ali Abdullah Saleh, criticized the military buildup in the region and called for an Arab solution to the crisis.