President Bush said Saturday that U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf would be ready to strike "10 minutes from now" if Iraq provoked a conflict.
Maintaining his stern daily warnings to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Bush countered a top Army general's candid acknowledgment that U.S. troops will not be fully combat-ready until perhaps a month after the United Nation's Jan. 15 authorized date for use of force."If there was some clear provocation 10 minutes from now, the allied forces are ready to respond vigorously," Bush said in remarks at an outdoor news conference at Camp David in Maryland.
Bush met at the mountaintop presidential retreat in rural Maryland with the new British prime minister, John Major, to discuss the gulf crisis, last week's resignation of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze and U.S.-European relations.
Major, who succeeded Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher three weeks ago, said Britain's firm stand with the gulf coalition has not weakened with the leadership change.
The British and other European leaders "have no plans to go further" with any talks with Saddam unless he meets the Americans first, Major said, referring to U.S.-Iraqi meetings that have been postponed in a dispute over scheduling.
Major also rejected the possibility that "Arab negotiators" might attempt to negotiate with Saddam to avert a war after the Jan. 15 deadline for an Iraqi troop withdrawal.
"There's nothing to negotiate," Major said in a news conference at Andrews Air Force Base before his departure. "It's a question of Saddam Hussein's withdrawing from Kuwait."
Bush said that while he was still hoping for a peaceful resolution, "I am convinced that Saddam Hussein hasn't gotten the message yet, for some odd reason."
In public statements every day for weeks, administration officials have attempted to keep maximum pressure on Saddam by warning that he must completely withdraw troops by Jan. 15 or risk U.S. attack. Lt. Gen. Calvin Waller, deputy commander of the 288,000 U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia, appeared to weaken that signal when he acknowledged in an interview last week that key army units would not be in place and fully trained until Feb. 15 or later, undercutting any early offensive capability.
Addressing the turmoil in the Soviet Union, Bush voiced confidence that Soviet support for the coalition will not suffer in the absence of Shevardnadze, a strong backer of the U.S. position.
"I am convinced from what we have received so far from the Soviet Union that their gulf policy will continue," Bush said.
He added, "People are concerned, wondering about the concerns raised and expressed by Mr. Shevardnadze" about the threat of dictatorship with the Soviets in a political and economic crisis. "But we will continue to deal with them (the Soviet Union) in the future as we have in the past and hope that change takes place in a peaceful way. Life goes on."
Meanwhile, Iraq's official news agency INA repeated Saturday statements by Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz that Iraq's stance "would not change one millimeter under threat and in an atmosphere of ultimatums" and that Iraq did not recognize the U.N.-imposed Jan. 15 deadline. INA said Aziz made the statements to Soviet officials during a meeting Monday.
In other developments:
- Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, visiting U.S. troops in the Saudi desert, warned Saddam against using chemical arms in any clash, saying, "I think he knows our response would be overwhelming."
- Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid said Egypt still hoped Iraq and the United States would hold high-level talks that have been put on hold because the two countries can not agree on dates.
- Saadi Mahdi Saleh, speaker of Iraq's parliament and a top adviser to Saddam, vowed Saturday that his nation will use poison gas and other chemical weapons if the United States and its allies attempt to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
"We will use all weapons in order not to give our country to the enemy. I say, all kinds of weapons that we possess," said Saleh, according to a report. "Kuwait is our territory."
- Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid arrived in Paris, continuing a campaign for peace that has taken him throughout the Middle East and Europe.