Anxiety and impatience swelled Friday among the 2,000 Westerners held hostage in Iraq, as the nation's parliament approved their release, but diplomats were frustrated in their efforts to pin down details about when the captives would be evacuated.
"You're on emotional thin ice, and all the sudden things just well up," American hostage Robert Vinton said.Vinton got a graphic demonstration of how little freedom he really had gained. When he tried to leave the government-operated Mansour Melia Hotel to buy clothes Friday afternoon, he got into a scuffle with vigilant Iraqi security guards who dragged him back into the hotel.
The hostages are "feeling pretty tense. They're beginning to feel the weight of the restrictions," said Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Chicago, who accompanied 18 American relatives of hostages to Iraq this week to plead for their release. "They've been through all this anxiety for months and when it seems so close . . . they are still restricted to the hotel with no word on when they can leave."
U.N. talks break down
At the United Nations, meanwhile, talks broke down Friday between the United States and non-aligned nations on a draft Security Council resolution endorsing a future international peace conference on the Middle East.
Ambassadors said the United States is likely to veto the measure, which is opposed by Israel. A formal council meeting was set for Saturday evening.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has demanded an international effort to solve the Palestinian question as a condition for settling the Persian Gulf crisis. However, Bush administration officials deny the U.N. proposal is meant to satisfy him.
Malaysian Ambassador Razali Ismail, who represents the non-aligned nations on the 15-nation council, said after a series of meetings with U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering that "it appears that the talks cannot go any further."
Maneuvering for hostages
One day after President Saddam Hussein announced that all foreigners held in Iraq would be freed, U.S. diplomats scrambled to make departure arrangements as negotiations began with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry over the tricky question of which airlines will be used to fly foreigners out of the country.
U.S. Embassy charge d'affaires Joseph Wilson met with Foreign Ministry officials on the matter of flights and exit-visa processing, but he received no firm confirmation that any arrangements had been made, he said.
"I guarantee we will get them out as soon as we can," Wilson said.
"(The Iraqis) hold all the cards," said another American diplomat.
Release may come `by Christmas'
In an interview with ABC News's "Nightline," Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz said that, while "technical arrangements" still had to be made for the hostages' release, "I think that by Christmas everybody could leave."
"We can facilitate the travel of a great number every day," Aziz said. But, he warned, "it's not going to happen in one day. It needs a few days for all the foreign nationals to leave. But they will be allowed to leave normally."
Because of the worldwide economic sanctions imposed against Iraq after its forces occupied Kuwait on Aug. 2, most countries have prohibited Iraqi Airways from landing on their soil. The government here has reciprocated by banning virtually all flights except those of its own airline. Iraqi Airways currently operates one flight a day to Amman, Jordan.
British airplane turned back
A British Airways jetliner stocked with chilled champagne and bound for Iraq to fly out British hostages was diverted to Amman when confusion arose over its clearance rights to land in Iraq, The Associated Press reported.
Iraq's civil aviation authorities gave clearance, a British Airways spokesman said, but the airline kept the flight in Amman because a news report from Iraq quoted an unidentified official as saying permission had been denied.
U.S. Embassy officials said Friday they are prepared to bring in charter planes and are arranging for special travel documents to be drawn up for American hostages whose passports have been confiscated.
Their task was complicated by the fact that Friday is the Moslem Sabbath. Many officials were not at work Friday.
U.S. balks at U.N. wording
Diplomats at the United Nations said the United States was pushing for removal of language endorsing a U.N.-sponsored Middle East peace conference "at the appropriate time," but the non-aligned nations insisted that it be left in - causing a breakdown in talks.
U.S. officials said Thursday they have long endorsed an international conference "at the appropriate time." But this is the first time the United States has let the U.N. Security Council consider adopting that position.
The Associated Press obtained a copy of the proposed resolution Friday afternoon, and it still contained the endorsement of a Mideast peace conference "at an appropriate time" and "with the participation of the parties concerned."
That language would apparently give Israel virtual veto power over such a conference, because the Jewish state would be expected to participate.
At the same time as they are trying to avoid upsetting their Israeli ally, U.S. officials also want to avoid the appearance of any linkage between Iraq's demands and the U.N. resolution.
"Precisely because of our consistent position that we will not link the gulf crisis and the Arab-Israeli dispute, this is certainly not an appropriate time for an international conference," Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Thursday.
-BYU is canceling winter semester at its Jerusalem Center (see page A2).
- A White House spokesman warned Iraq that there's no lessening in the threat of war even with release of hostages.
- Defense Secretary Dick Cheney asked NATO allies to send combat troops and make more ships and planes available for transporting U.S. troops and weaponry.
- The United States will withdraw from its besieged embassy in Kuwait provided Iraq does let all U.S. citizens leave.