President Bush, opening a dramatic last-ditch diplomatic channel to Iraq, announced Friday he was sending Secretary of State James Baker to Baghdad in an effort to meet with Saddam Hussein and resolve the gulf crisis.
Blending diplomacy with determination, Bush said he welcomed a United Nations resolution that would allow for the use of force after Jan. 15 if Iraq has not withdrawn its troops from Kuwait. He vowed: "There will not be any murky ending."In televised remarks from the White House, Bush said he hoped that Saddam would receive Baker "at a mutually convenient time" between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15. He also invited Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to Washington for consultations during the week of Dec. 10.
Bush said Baker's trip would underscore for Saddam America's determination. "The best way to get that across is one on one, Baker looking him in the eye. It isn't a trip of concession."
He said allied forces "will have the power to get the job done," if prompted to confront the Iraqi military.
Bush acknowledged some American misgivings about the prospects of war and vowed that if hostilities erupt: "This will not be another Vietnam. This will not be a protracted, drawn-out war." He said he saw no need for a military draft.
Bush said there could be no compromise on his demands that Iraq withdraw completely, restore the Kuwaiti government to power and release all hostages being held in the crisis.
He hailed the U.N. resolution authorizing the use of force and pointedly observed that economic sanctions alone might not be sufficient to force Saddam to withdraw his troops.
If hostilities break out, he said, "This will not be a protracted, drawn-out war. He said allied troops "will have the power to get the job done."
More than 230,000 American troops are in the Persian Gulif region, and another 200,00 are expected in a buildup that Bush announced last month.
In his speech and news conference afterwards, Bush also:
- Disclosed that Iraqis have recently appeared unexpectedly at the besieged U.S. Embassy in Kuwait with deliveries of cigarettes, fruits and vegetables. He said he understood there was another delivery on Saturday including soda pop.
- Said he would not summon Congress into special session to debate the Persian Gulf crisis. He said he would not object to one, but the Democratic leaders of the House and Senate have shown little interest in reconvening. Bush said he wanted to see Congress pass a resolution enthusiastically endorsing the U.N. vote.
Congress is not due to reconvene until Jan. 3, 1991.
Speaking of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Bush said, "I am hopeful that now he will realize he must leave Kuwait immediately."
At the same time, he stressed that he has no optimism that Baker's mission will have any "big results." Instead, he said the overture demonstrated his desire to "go the extra mile" for a peaceful settlement of the crisis.
He said Baker would be prepared "to discuss all aspects of the gulf crisis," but said the United States would not waiver in his objectives of total Iraqi withdrawal, restoration of the Kuwaiti government and release of all hostages.
"Never has there been a clearer demonstration of a world united against appeasement and aggression," the president said, referring to a mulititude of U.N. resolutions demanding Iraq's withdrawal.
"I remain hopeful we can achieve a peaceful solution to this crisis. But if force is required . . . we have enough power to get the job done," Bush declared.
He cautioned Iraq not to misread his motives in pursuing the diplomatic approach.
"I don't think there has ever been a question that the United States is going to blink" in this situation, he said.
Bush's comments appeared designed in part to raise the military stakes with Saddam, but also to respond to critics in Congress who have said he should exercise patience and diplomacy.
He said there is talk of Saddam of not fully understanding his determination to see that Iraq withdraw from Kuwait. He said he wants to see the U.N. resolutions "implemented to a T."
That means Iraqi withdrawl from Kuwait, restoration of the Kuwaiti government and release of all hostages beind held in Kuwait, including those used as human shields to discourage military strikes against vital installations.
Bush was asked about the potential toll of human lives in a Gulf war.
He sighed and said he knew many people wondered, "How many lives is it worth? I will do my level best to bring those kids home without one single shot being fired in anger."
Bush's speech and news conference came against a backdrop of rising criticism of his policy. He announced three weeks ago a further buildup of the 230,000 American troops already in the region.
Bush said, "those who see no downside to waiting months and months" must consider "the damage being done every day" to the fragile economies of the countries in the region.