The new year arrived with fresh European efforts to ward off war in the Persian Gulf and hints of a possible break in the impasse blocking talks between Iraq and the Bush administration.
Middle East allies will probably receive a visit from Secretary of State James A. Baker III before the U.N.-sanctioned Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait or face the possibility of attack.Troops in the gulf welcomed 1991 with water, soda and non-alcoholic "Saudi champagne" in deference to Muslim tenets against liquor. On the Armed Forces Radio Network, comedian Robin Williams cried: "Good Maaawwwrrrning, Saudi."
In Iraq, 17-year-olds were preparing to be transformed from students to soldiers under an order to report for military duty beginning Wednesday. They will be the youngest ever drafted in modern Iraq.
A New Year's message from the Iraqi Embassy in London portrayed President Bush as a warmonger and said Iraqis "always carry the olive branch and sing songs of peace."
The statement said 1991 could bring "roses, rainbows or a blood bath and piles of corpses and everlasting sorrow."In London, former Prime Minister Edward Heath accused the United States of failing to pursue a diplomatic initiative.
"Tens of thousands of lives depend on this and the whole of the world order," he said on the British Broadcasting Corp.
Vice President Dan Quayle wrapped up a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia Tuesday with visits to troops before meeting with the deposed emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jaber al-Sabah. (See story this page.)
Quayle was expected to ask the emir for more money to help support the U.S. military buildup in the gulf. Quayle made a similar request to Saudi King Fahd on Sunday.
Luxembourg took over the European Community presidency Tuesday, and the 12-nation trade bloc plans Friday to discuss a possible political settlement to the gulf crisis.
The Luxembourgian foreign minister, Jacques Poos, said he expected some member states to push for him to meet with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz.
Jordan's King Hussein has vigorously pursued a diplomatic solution to the crisis ever since it began with Iraq's Aug. 2 seizure of Kuwait. He was scheduled to travel to Europe for talks with some leaders this week.
In an effort to keep the anti-Iraq alliance strong and search for ways to avoid war, Baker will probably visit Saudi Arabia and other Middle East allies early this month.
A Bush administration official who revealed the possible Baker trip said the visit would be to "touch bases" with gulf leaders. The official spoke on condition of anonymity.
There are no immedate plans for Baker to travel to Iraq, but one U.S. official said Saddam Hussein could invite Baker to Baghdad.
Saddam has suggested that Baker meet with him on Jan. 12, a date the Bush administration contends is too close to the Jan. 15 deadline. U.S. officials had proposed Jan. 3 to begin talks.
But the State Department is now saying that it has not ruled out a Baker trip to Iraq after Jan. 3.
Without the traditional New Year's libations, soliders toasted the stroke of midnight with Cokes and other soft drinks.
In the style of Vietnam-era military disc jockey Adrian Kronauer, Williams opened his pre-recorded broadcast to gulf troops with the cry: "Good Maaawwwrrrning, Saudi."
Williams protrayed Kronauer in the film "Good Morning, Vietnam."
A British newpaper reported that generals who have fought or cooperated with Iraqi forces say a war against Iraq could be won on its first day.
The article in the Times of London, which did not name its sources, said Iraqi troop morale is low and its military arsenal is no match for the multinational force.
In other developments:
- Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu of Japan said his nation is ready to offer economic aid to Iraq if it withdraws peacefully from Kuwait. Japan, which had been Iraq's top aid donor, froze about $3 billion in assistance after the invasion.
- The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Bush should face impeachment if he leads the nation to war against Iraq without congressional consent. "The focus should be on the goal of getting Iraq out of Kuwait, not on a cutoff date," Jackson said Monday in New Orleans.