The U.N. secretary-general, en route to Baghdad, picked up European support Friday for what
could be the final peace mission to Iraq before next week's U.N. deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait or face a possible attack.Increasing fears of war in the region prompted the U.S. Embassy in Israel to urge tens of thousands of Americans to leave the Jewish state, which Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has repeatedly threatened to attack if war breaks out.
Saddam reiterated Friday he will not pull out of Kuwait without a settlement of the Palestinian problem - a linkage of two issues that Washington has repeatedly rejected.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III Friday told U.S. Air Force pilots in Saudi Arabia that "you will not have to wait much longer" to know if the United States will go to war.
"Just so there is no misunderstanding, let me be absolutely clear: We pass the brink at midnight, Jan. 15," Baker said in a prepared speech that reflected a heightened war mood within the Bush administration.
Baker met with Saudi Arabia's King Fahd late Thursday and discussed, among other topics, coordination of military strategy. Baker Friday was scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, both key Arab members of the anti-Iraq coalition.
U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar met Friday in Geneva with foreign ministers of the 12-nation European Community before a weekend mission to Baghdad. Before heading to Amman, Jordan, he won their support for his plan for a U.N. peacekeeping role in the gulf region if Iraq pulls out from Kuwait.
German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher said, "It is alone in the hands of Saddam to clear the way for a settlement by getting out of Kuwait." Perez de Cuellar, who left New York late Thursday for Paris, Geneva and Amman, said he was not bringing a specific plan to Saddam when he arrives in Baghdad on Saturday. But he said he was exploring U.N. supervision of a simultaneous pullout of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and the U.S.-led forces arrayed against the Iraqis in the Persian Gulf region.
"Once the withdrawal is agreed upon, I think I will propose the participation of the U.N. force, I mean U.N. peacekeeping operations," Perez de Cuellar said.
Saddam's defiant speech came before hundreds of Muslim scholars attending a conference in Baghdad. He said he was certain of victory because his armed forces had "combat experience, unlike the Americans using military manuals."
His information minister also denied foreign news reports that Saddam may wait several days past the Tuesday deadline before announcing his support "in principle" to leave Kuwait.
The U.S. advisory for Americans to leave Israel and the occupied territories was the latest in a series issued in the region because of fears of Iraqi attacks. The U.S. Embassy in Israel authorized more than 200 dependents of embassy employees to depart at government expense.
Bush is sending Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger to Israel soon to reassure its leaders about U.S. support in case of an Iraqi attack and to coordinate positions if war breaks out, officials in Washington said.
At the United Nations, diplomats and officials said Perez de Cuellar is expected to propose U.N. peacekeepers monitor the withdrawal of the more than 1 million troops on both sides. Some diplomats say it could take months for all entrenched Iraqi soldiers to leave.
In other developments:
- The Pentagon said U.S. forces are pouring into the Persian Gulf region at the rate of at least 5,000 a day and at least 80 warships and support vessels are in the area or en route. U.S. troop strength in the region has reached at least 370,000, and overall allied strength is now at least 615,000, it said.
- CIA Director William Webster predicted the sanctions would likely not be enough to force Iraq from Kuwait this year.
- An ABC-Washington Post poll reported Thursday that 68 percent of 511 American adults believed the United States should attack Iraq if it doesn't get out of Kuwait by Tuesday. That was an increase from 58 percent last month. The margin of error was 5 percentage points.
- Saudi Arabia pledged Friday to bear 40 percent to 50 percent of the military costs for the multinational buildup in the gulf. U.S. and Saudi officials refused to name a price tag on the contribution.
- The Los Angeles Times reported Friday that U.S. troops have suffered huge "casualties" while practicing assaults against full-scale mockups of Iraqi fortifications in Saudi Arabia and Fort Ord, Calif.
- The U.S. Justice Department directed Immigration and Naturalization Service officials to keep a close watch on people entering the United States with Iraqi or Kuwaiti passports to "protect American citizens."
- An eight-ship U.S. Navy amphibious task force has entered the gulf and will be followed in the next few days by the aircraft carrier USS Midway, the U.S. Central Command said Friday in Saudi Arabia.
- The United States and the Netherlands will send Patriot surface-to-air missiles to Turkey to help bolster its defenses in case of border clashes with Iraq, a Dutch official and NATO sources said Friday. The agreement to send the missiles - the most sophisticated air defensive missile in the American arsenal - came five days after Belgium, Italy and Germany dispatched 42 NATO jets to Turkey to defend its southern border with Iraq.