President Bush, vowing that there will be no secret deals, warned Saturday that Iraq must pull all of its troops out of Kuwait or "face the terrible consequences."
As Secretary of State James A. Baker III prepared to depart Sunday for a crucial round of diplomacy, the president said in a radio address that the United States will go the "extra mile" to avert ordering American troops into battle.However, Bush said, Baker will underscore the U.S. demand that Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein must "unconditionally and immediately" withdraw his forces from Kuwait, where they dug in since the Aug. 2 invasion.
"This will not be secret diplomacy at work," said Bush in describing the forthcoming meeting with Iraq's Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. The Baker-Aziz talks are scheduled for Wednesday in Geneva, only six days before the U.N. Security Council's Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait.
The radio address marked the latest White House bid to tell Americans why their country has moved to the verge of war, while a Democratic-led Congress stepped up its appeals to give sanctions against Iraq more time to work.
Bush argued that international sanctions have not forced Saddam out of Kuwait and that it is not known if they ever will. He said that the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq to withdraw does not necessarily mean that the United States will take offensive action on that date.
Nevertheless, he warned that "time is running out."
"Each day that passes increases Saddam's worldwide threat to democracy," said the president.
He asserted that the morale of U.S. servicemen and women remained "sky high." If asked to go to war, he added, they will perform "courageously, professionally and, in the end, decisively."
As his recorded radio message was being aired, Bush met with U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar at his Camp David retreat to discuss ways to resolve the crisis. They spent about three hours together.
As the tense countdown to Jan. 15 continued, world leaders and a top religious figure stepped up efforts to avert war.
On the diplomatic front, the 12-nation European Community offered to meet with Aziz the day after his talks with Baker. But Aziz declined, the official Iraqi News Agency reported.
Also, France's Foreign Minister Roland Dumas has proposed that the European Community make a peace offer that includes the promise of an international conference on the Mideast - after Iraq vacates Kuwait.
U.S. policymakers have not responded to the French plan. However, Bush has adamantly rejected any "linkage" between the Persian Gulf crisis and such long-standing Middle East issues as the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
Iraq has insisted that any withdrawal from Kuwait must be tied to progress in resolving the Palestinian problem. The official Iraqi News Agency reported that Saddam will give a televised "Pan-Arab" speech Sunday morning to mark the 70th anniversary of the Iraqi army.
Baker was scheduled to fly to Europe Sunday to begin talks with European officials before meeting with Iraq's foreign minister in Geneva. Later, Baker goes to the Mideast to confer with the leaders of the anti-Iraq coalition.
In Baghdad, top Iraqi officials have said any attempt by Baker to issue an ultimatum on Kuwait would be rejected.