The first wave of American hostages freed under Saddam Hussein's blanket release headed home Monday, and the United States haggled with Iraq to get an early date for Secretary of State James A. Baker III's visit to Baghdad.
U.S. consular officials in Germany said 152 Americans and four Canadians left Frankfurt on a Pan Am flight headed for Andrews Air Force Base near Washington. Provisions aboard included hamburgers and champagne.While expressing relief at the freeing of the hostages, the Bush administration wants nothing less than Saddam's total withdrawal from Kuwait. It is urging a Baker-Saddam meeting by Jan. 3 so Iraq has time to pull out by Jan. 15, the deadline set in the U.N. resolution authorizing force to drive Iraq from the emirate.
About 277 Britons gathered at a downtown Baghdad hotel Monday to prepare to fly to London. Four Americans and an unspecified number of other Westerners also were to be given seats on the British-chartered plane, which can carry 350 passengers, British consular officials said.
The Americans who left Frankfurt were among about 175 former captives who had arrived a day earlier from Baghdad aboard a U.S.-chartered Iraqi Airways jet. Some spoke of hiding barefoot in Kuwait City apartments, others of being held captive in "gulags" at strategic sites.
The flight from Baghdad also included 101 former British hostages, who were flown Monday morning from Frankfurt to London, where they were greeted by jubilant relatives and government officials.
"I feel euphoric," said one of the freed British captives, 45-year-old Harvey May.
"It's a very exciting and emotional moment," said Douglass Hogg, a junior British foreign minister.
U.S. officials said they planned to charter another flight in three or four days to evacuate the rest of the estimated 750 Americans in Iraq and Kuwait.
Twenty-one former American hostages landed in Houston early Sunday. They flew out of Baghdad a day earlier aboard a jet chartered by former Treasury Secretary John Connally, who was in Iraq on a private mission to free hostages.
Two men who had been hiding in Kuwait planned to fly directly to Albuquerque, N.M., to bypass the hostage homecoming as a protest against the administration's handling of their release, a relative said.
Ruth Kho said her father, Eugene Hughes, and his stepson, Donald Latham, "have some hard feelings toward the U.S. government."
"The Voice of America didn't broadcast that they could come out of hiding," she said. As a result they took a chance in coming to the airport in Kuwait City, where they were forced to wait for eight hours before being flown out Sunday, she said.
There are increasing reports that Iraq was planning a partial pullout from Kuwait, but the Bush administration indicated Sunday that withdraw alone would not suffice. It said the world would have to be able to closely monitor Baghdad's advanced weapons programs.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz plans to visit Washington for a meeting with Bush, possibly on Dec. 17. Baker's trip to Baghdad would follow some time later, but Iraqi and U.S. officials have yet to agree on a date.
Baker said that if Saddam does not agree to a meeting by Jan. 3, it will show the Iraqi leader is not serious about averting war.
A meeting Jan. 12, as proposed by Baghdad, would not give Iraq enough time to withdraw from its oil-rich neighbor before the Jan. 15 deadline, Baker said.
The Iraqi ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Amir Al-Anbari, said the meeting might be scheduled earlier. Speaking on NBC-TV's "Meet the Press," he said the disagreement over scheduling was "a minute one."
British and Arab newspapers reported Sunday that Iraq has redrawn its border with Kuwait in possible preparation for a partial pullout from Kuwait.
The reports, in the Observer of London and the Al-Khaleej daily in Abu Dhabi, said Saddam's aim was to keep the entire Rumailah oilfield and two islands, Warba and Bubiyan, which would give it open access to the Persian Gulf. The oilfield, which lies chiefly in Iraq, extends two miles into Kuwait and Saddam accused Kuwait of overexploiting it before he invaded.
The weekly Observer, citing unidentified Arab sources in Washington, said "most Arab governments expect Iraq to withdraw from the rest of Kuwait in late January" but completion of a new border fence around Rumailah indicates an even earlier withdrawal.
Baker said that in his meeting with Saddam he would not agree to give Iraq all of Rumailah because "to say anything else would be to reward an aggressor."
Once Iraq withdraws completely from Kuwait, the two neighbors can negotiate their differences, he said.