President Bush is prepared to call off planned talks with Iraq on the Persian Gulf crisis because the two countries have been unable to agree on meeting dates, two senators said Friday.
The two governments have been unable to agree on a date for Secretary of State James A. Baker III to visit Baghdad to talk to Iraq's President Saddam Hussein, and for Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz to meet with Bush in Washington."The president - as I gather his mood today - is prepared to have no meetings rather than to see a lot of shoving around . . . if we have no meetings so be it," Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., said after meeting with Bush Friday morning.
White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said, however, that Bush was not abandoning hopes to set up the talks.
"The president proposed them and wants them to happen. We have given them 15 dates to choose from. We can't understand why they can't choose one."
Iraq has said Aziz could come to the United States next Monday and that Baker would be received in Baghdad on Jan. 12. But the United States wants Baker to make his trip sometime between Dec. 20 and Jan. 3.
Lugar said Bush "is not about to give on a date in Baghdad" that would have Baker meeting with Saddam just three days before the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to withdraw its occupying troops from Kuwait. Lugar is a member of the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf, a bipartisan group formed to support the president's gulf policy that met with Bush Friday morning.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., another member of the group, told reporters: "The president feels he has taken the necessary steps that encourage dialogue, and if they fail to respond in a reasonable and mature fashion, then he's made his best effort and that's it."
Bush was intent that the purpose of the meetings was that Saddam understand the strength and conviction of the international coalition arrayed against him since his Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait, said Lugar.
"If he understands that already, by watching television, I think the president is prepared to let it go at that," said Lugar.
Bush is "tired of hearing" people's assumptions that there was some other agenda or negotiating intent to his proposal for talks with Iraq.
"If we're not going to have any meetings, it would clear that up for good," Lugar said.
McCain also told reporters that Bush was preparing to ask U.S. allies for more military and financial support for the U.S. efforts in the Gulf.
Joseph Wilson IV, the deputy U.S. ambassador to Iraq, has talked daily to foreign ministry officials in Baghdad about setting a date for Baker's visit to Baghdad.
But Margaret D. Tutwiler, the State Department spokeswoman, said Thursday the Iraqis had not offered an alternative to Jan. 12, which Baker rejected.
On Thursday, Bush welcomed seven former hostages to the White House and angrily said Saddam will receive no reward for releasing them.
"Hell, no. Not one thing," Bush told reporters during a picture-taking session with the ex-captives. "You don't want to reward a kidnapper."
The hourlong meeting marked the first time Bush has met with any former American hostage from Kuwait or Iraq.
Responding to Democratic calls to give economic sanctions against Iraq more time, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, said Friday "patience is not producing results."
"Those who would have us rely indefinitely on economic sanctions alone need to face the possibility that they will fail to achieve our aims," Cheney told the House Armed Services Committee.
The testimony from the Pentagon chief and Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, comes amid the urgings of several Democrats for a go-slow approach in the gulf rather than the immediate use of military force.
But Cheney told the panel that if the economic attempts and diplomatic efforts to solve the crisis fail, the United States must have the option of using force to oust Iraq from the oil-rich emirate of Kuwait.
"Having a capacity for patience does not mean we must remain patient when patience is not producing results. We must always have other options, and that is what the new deployments and the recent United Nations action are all about," Cheney said.
In London, a report released Friday by the Medical Campaign Against Nuclear Weapons said plans being made for gulf war casualties will be inadequate.
The group, citing a report last month by the Washington-based Center for Defense Information, anticipates military and civilian casualties of 314,000, including 63,000 dead, in a gulf conflict.
A British Ministry of Defense spokeswoman, speaking on condition of anonymity, said medical group was speculating wildly on numbers.
The Medical Campaign Against Nuclear War is the British affiliate of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which announced Thursday it was sending a peace delegation to the gulf Friday. The organization represents more than 200,000 doctors.