Iraq, in a sign of rising tensions, summoned its ambassadors to the United States and the United Nations to Baghdad for consultations with President Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi Embassy in Washington said.
The embassy spokesman, insisting on anonymity, said the envoy to Washington, Mohamed Al-Mashat, and U.N. Ambassador Abdul Al-Anbari, were expected to remain in Baghdad for a week or two. He offered no other explanation.Saddam, meanwhile, says Tel Aviv will be Iraq's first target if war breaks out in the Persian Gulf, a Spanish television station that conducted a weekend interview with the Iraqi leader said Monday.
Saddam has threatened before to attack Israel, but it was the first time he said he would make the Jewish state his first target. Such a strategy is presumably aimed at weakening the resolve of moderate Arab members of the multinational force arrayed against Iraq.
The private television station Tele 5 broadcast brief video images of the Saturday interview with Saddam, but no audio. It plans to broadcast the entire interview on Wednesday.
The state-run news agency EFE, whose technicians took part in the two-hour interview in Baghdad, quoted Saddam as saying Tel Aviv would be Iraq's first target whether or not Israel joins an international war effort against Iraq.
Fearing such an attack, Israel has been distributing gas masks to all its citizens.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said that Iraq would be "harmed in a most serious way" if it attacks Israel. Asked whether war was likely, he told Israel radio Monday: "I would say the danger is very close."
A senior PLO official was quoted Monday as saying the Palestine Liberation Organization would fight alongside the Iraqis if war breaks out.
"We have coordinated our plans to fight with Iraq," Hani Al-Hassan, Yasser Arafat's chief political adviser, told the Iraqi daily Al-Jumhuriya.
Meanwhile, U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf were on heightened alert as many soldiers were given light duties to begin Christmas celebrations.
The measures, which include increased security checks, were called to guard against possible terrorist attacks during the holiday season, said a military source.
Before concluding his visit to the region, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said the "clock is ticking" toward war with Iraq. He also hinted that the U.S. arsenal in the Persian Gulf includes chemical weapons.
Cheney, ending a five-day trip to the Middle East on Sunday, did not directly answer a reporter's question in Saudi Arabia on whether the United States had chemical weapons in the Persian Gulf. But he noted that U.S. forces in the region will have the "full spectrum" of arms to draw from in the event of war.
Iraq has threatened to use chemical weapons against the United States and other members of the multinational military force arrayed against it in the Saudi desert.
Cheney declined to say whether the United States has a timetable to attack Iraqi forces if Saddam ignores a U.N.-imposed Jan. 15 deadline to quit Kuwait.
"The clock is ticking as each day goes by and he (Saddam) does not withdraw his forces from Kuwait," he said. U.S. troop deployment in the gulf was nearing 300,000, he said.
Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell said in Washington that Congress will debate U.S. gulf policy when it convenes after Jan. 3.
"The Constitution says that only the Congress can declare war," said Mitchell, D-Maine, speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press." The president "does have to come to Congress if he decides to make war, and I believe offensive military action in the current circumstances in the Persian Gulf are self-evidently the making of war.
"I told the president that many many times. I regret to say that it appears the adminstration doesn't agree."
Iraq's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, was quoted in The Los Angeles Times Monday as saying that Iraqi officials were still willing to meet for talks with the Bush administration on Jan. 12.
U.S. troops planned a low-key Christmas in Moslem Saudi Arabia, with non-religious Christmas carols favored on Armed Forces radio and 2-foot plastic trees sent from home discreetly displayed behind closed tent flaps.
Bob Hope was to meet with U.S. personnel but, in deference to the Saudis, no shows were officially planned and media coverage was to be limited.
Eighty linguists and interrogators with the Utah National Guard's Company A, 142nd Military Intelligence Battalion, were notified Monday that they are being called up for 180 days of active duty in the Middle East, said Maj. Bob Nelson, public affairs officer for the Guard.
The activation date is Jan. 3. They may leave for Fort Carson, Colo., as early as Jan. 6. The unit - a composite of intelligence teams from both the 141st and 142nd - has members from the Provo, Salt Lake, Bountiful and Ogden areas.