President Bush on Friday welcomed Iraq's acceptance of high-level talks as "a useful step" but ruled out any negotiations over its occupation of Kuwait.
Bush said Secretary of State James A. Baker III will convey to Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in Geneva next Wednesday "the gravity of the situation" and the determination of the international community that all Iraqi troops quit Kuwait by Jan. 15."If they totally comply they will not be attacked," Bush promised before boarding a helicopter for his Camp David retreat in Maryland's Catoctin Mountains.
Meanwhile, in Luxembourg, European Community foreign ministers, assuring Iraq it would not be attacked if it withdraws unconditionally from Kuwait, Friday invited Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to a meeting in Luxembourg after he sees Secretary of State James Baker in Switzerland.
In a statement released after the session, the ministers said that if Iraq withdrew fully and unconditionally from Kuwait, Baghdad should be given assurances that it will not be attacked by the multinational force assembled against them.
"As a result," the statement added, "the ministers repeat that the entire responsibility for war or peace rests with the Iraqi government."
Given the strong language in the statement it was not certain Aziz would accept the invitation to meet with the Europeans in Luxembourg Thursday, the day after his meeting with Baker in Geneva.
The deadline set by the U.N. Security Council at U.S. urging in November threatens Iraq with military action if its 500,000 troops are not withdrawn from the nation they invaded Aug. 2.
Bush said he hoped Iraq's acceptance of his proposal for Baker to meet with Aziz "indicates a growing awareness of the seriousness of the situation and a willingness to heed the international community's will."
The president ruled out the idea of Baker going on from Geneva to Baghdad to see Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
With Iraq jockeying to broaden the talks to include the Palestinians' dispute with Israel, Bush said Aziz obviously would be free to bring up whatever he wished.But, Bush said, "there can be no compromise or negotiations on the U.S. objectives" of a total withdrawal and restoration of Kuwaiti sovereignty.
"There will be no linkage on those two questions," he said, referring to any possible connection to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. "There will be no linkage on these other issues."
He also all but ruled out another U.N. Security Council session on the crisis, although Bush said he would listen to what Perez de Cuellar might have to say on that subject.
Elsewhere in the Capitol on Friday:
- Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush will make the radio address to "update the American people on the status of our diplomatic efforts to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait."
- The State Department announced that before seeing Aziz, Baker would hold talks in London Monday with British and European Community officials and with NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner and with President Francois Mitterrand of France in Paris and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn on Tuesday.
- Baker's schedule after the Aziz meeting called for talks on Thursday in Turkey and Saudi Arabia; in Abu Dhabi on Friday and in Egypt and Syria on Saturday. Before flying home Jan. 13, he returns to London to meet with British Prime Minister John Major.
- Congress' General Accounting Office estimated that the U.S. military effort in the gulf will cost $30 billion this fiscal year even if war does not break out, and hundreds of millions of dollars a day more if fighting does start.