Syria's defense minister said in a newspaper interview published Saturday that his country was ready to send 500,000 more troops to defend Persian Gulf Arab states against further Iraqi aggression.

However, Lt. Gen. Mustafa Tlass expressed hope Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's troops would leave Kuwait and avoid war."Syria is ready to send half a million troops to the gulf and face any treacherous action by Saddam Hussein," the Syrian defense minister told the United Arab Emirates newspaper Al Ittihad newspaper, distributed in Cairo.

Syria, a longtime foe of Iraq, has already sent about 4,000 troops to the Persian Gulf to serve with the U.S.-led multinational force.

But Tlass said he hoped Saddam would pull his troops out of the emirate before any state resorted to force. "We hope he will be courageous and admit his mistake," Tlass was quoted as saying.