President Bush said Monday he still hopes for talks with Iraq on resolving the Persian Gulf crisis, but said Iraqi forces must be out of Kuwait by Jan. 15 "and that means entirely." Bush did not say what he would do if Saddam Hussein fails to meet the deadline.
"I think at midnight (on Jan. 15), if he's not totally out of Kuwait, the U.N. sanctions must be fulfilled," Bush said.In remarks to reporters, Bush said he was disturbed by Saddam's weekend comments that there should be a holy war if necessary to permit Iraq to keep Kuwait. Bush vowed anew that Iraq must not be allowed to profit from its takeover.
"It's important that the man understand that we're serious about this."
Bush also met with Ambassador Nathaniel Howell, who kept the U.S. embassy in Kuwait open despite pressure from Baghdad. Howell said Iraq was winterizing military bunkers in Kuwait - prompting a reporter to comment aloud that "it doesn't bode well for us."
Bush replied, "It doesn't bode well for Saddam."
Iraq's invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2 touched off an international crisis, and led to a United Nations deadline of Jan. 15 for Iraq to leave Kuwait. The U.N. resolution permits the use of force if Iraq has not withdrawn.
Bush said he has heard from many people who say Saddam may believe the United States is bluffing, despite the deployment of up to 400,000 troops into the Middle East.
"A lot of people who think they understand him don't feel that he believes we are serious. They don't feel that he thinks we will use force . . . and he's just as wrong as he can be."
Bush's comments came after several days of international jockeying over dates for direct talks between U.S. and Iraqi diplomats. Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz had been due in Washington Monday to meet with the president. But that visit was put off when the two sides could not agree on a date for Secretary of State James Baker's visit to Baghdad.
The Iraqi ambassador to France said Monday that Iraq would make no concessions without negotiations on the gulf crisis. If no talks are held by Jan. 15, Iraq will "wait and see" what happens, Ambassador Abdul Razak al Hachimi said.
NATO condemns Iraq
Iraq must withdraw completely from Kuwait because there can be no "partial solutions" to the Persian Gulf crisis, NATO foreign ministers said Monday.
"We condemn Iraq's persistent contempt for the resolutions of the United Nations Security Council," the NATO ministers said in a statement the first day of a two-day meeting in Brussels, Belgium.
"Complete Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and the restoration of the sovereignty and legitimate government of Kuwait are unequivocal conditions for a peaceful solution. There can be no partial solutions," the statement said.
The timing of the statement was unusual. Normally no public documents are released on the opening day, only a final communique on the closing day.