President Bush says he has a "gut feeling" that Saddam Hussein will withdraw from Kuwait, even at risk of being toppled from power by his own people.
Bush, in a Time magazine interview to be published Monday, also said he was confident he had chosen the right course in the Persian Gulf crisis."Maybe that is why I am - I will not say relaxed, but determined. And I am not churning about it," he said.
Speculation about Bush's state of mind has been growing as the United Nation's Jan. 15 deadline nears for Iraq's pullout from Kuwait. The U.N. Security Council has authorized the United States and its allies to use force after that date if Iraq refuses to get out.
Bush was spending the weekend at Camp David in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains, about 60 miles northwest of the capital, with his brother, Jonathan, and his family. Vice President Dan Quayle, meanwhile, was headed for Saudi Arabia to spend New Year's Day with U.S. troops and to consult with Saudi leaders and the exiled emir of Kuwait.
Quayle's staff said he bore no new diplomatic initiatives from Bush.
At Camp David, the president reviewed reports from the gulf Saturday and signed an executive order that implemented his decision to grant the Soviet Union up to $1 billion in credits to buy farm products from the United States (story on A4). Asked by Time whether he had made the decision to sacrifice American lives to implement the U.N. resolution against Iraq, Bush bristled.
"No, I am not willing to sacrifice American lives. I do not like the question put that way."
But he also said he was determined to do whatever was necessary to get Iraq out. "That includes every inch of territory. No concessions."
Asked whether that means going to war, Bush answered:
"My gut says he will get out of there. But that flies in the face of what some of the Arab leaders tell me - which is that he cannot get out. He cannot do it and survive domestically."
Nonetheless, Bush added, anyone who has fought a war "is going to have to find a way to see that he does not fight another one." Saddam fought an eight-year war with Iran which ended in 1988 with some 1 million casualties on both sides.
Bush himself was a young flier in World War II and saw action against Japan in the Pacific.
Meanwhile, Iraq on Saturday denied reports that it is engaged in secret contacts with Washington to avert a war and its foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, held talks on a new effort by the world's non-aligned nations to defuse the buildup in the gulf.
Iraq's information minister, Latif Nussayif Jassim, denied a report by Radio Monte Carlo that secret U.S.-Iraqi contacts were under way, the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
The radio report quoted unidentified diplomatic sources in Egypt as saying Iraq was considering some ideas proposed by Washington. The radio said these include an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait in exchange for assurances that it will not be attacked by the U.S.-led multinational force, which is expected to total more than half a million troops by the end of January.
"These are ridiculous ideas and figments of the imagination," Jassim was quoted as saying.
Independent Radio Monte Carlo, which has an Arabic-language service widely listened to in the Middle East, is generally reliable in its reporting on the Persian Gulf situation.
A statement later Saturday by Iraq's ruling Revolutionary Command Council called the report a "sick interpretation (that) exists only in the minds of the planners of evil and their suspect circles."
A political activist in Jordan said Saturday that Saddam has messaged King Fahd of Saudi Arabia warning that his country will be Iraq's second target after Israel if Saudi leaders continue to push for war.