The U.N. secretary-general talked with Iraqi officials Saturday to make a plea for peace, while the U.S. Congress gave President Bush permission to wage war.
Iraq announced that its parliament has been summoned to an emergency session on Monday, one day before the Jan. 15 U.N. deadline for Iraq to leave Kuwait or face possible attack.But Iraqi officials also reiterated there was no change in Iraq's refusal to withdraw from the occupied emirate. There were no further details on the emergency session.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has used the rubber-stamp parliament before to give a democratic veneer to capitulations in the five-month Persian Gulf crisis such as the release last month of foreign captives.
The last six American diplomats in Baghdad, meanwhile, lowered the U.S. Embassy flag and flew to Germany on Saturday. They were the latest in a growing exodus of foreigners from the Iraqi capital ahead of Tuesday's deadline.
Hours later, the State Department ordered Iraq's ambassador in Washington to cut his Iraqi staff to four, "to reduce Iraq's capability to orchestrate terrorism in the event of gulf hostilities."
The House and Senate, after three days of anguished debate, on Saturday afternoon gave Bush the authority to use force against Iraq after the U.N. deadline. The Senate vote was 52-47; the House vote was 250-183.
Both houses of Congress earlier rejected a Democratic call for continued reliance on diplomacy and economic sanctions to compel Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.
Bush said the vote authorizing use of force "unmistakably demonstrates the U.S. commitment" to an unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.
The president said war could still be avoided if Iraq begins a "massive, rapid withdrawal of its troops from Kuwait" before the Jan. 15 deadline.
He refused to say what action he would take if Saddam continues to defy withdrawal demands after the deadline but said he would be inclined to act "sooner rather than later."
Kuwait's U.N. ambassador applauded the congressional vote. Ambassador Mohammad Abulhasan again appealed for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait, saying, "Every minute of delay is a minute closer to the war."
Iraq's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, greeted U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar on his arrival in Baghdad, and the two met twice later in the day. U.N. officials said Perez de Cuellar would meet Saddam on Sunday.
"As you know very well, I come here as a messenger of peace," the U.N. chief told reporters. "I am not bringing any specific proposal, all I bring is not only my good will to find a peaceful solution. I bring the wish of the international community for a peaceful solution."
On Friday, however, he gained European Community support for an idea to send a U.N. peacekeeping force to the gulf following a simultaneous pullback of Iraqitroops and the multinational force.
Italy's foreign minister, Gianni De Michelis, said an EC delegation may go to Baghdad before Tuesday if the U.N. mission fails.
Perez de Cuellar said he would discuss a wide range of issues with Saddam, including the Iraqi demand to link a settlement of the gulf crisis to the Arab-Israel dispute - a linkage that Washington has repeatedly rejected.
Also Saturday, Syrian President Hafez Assad, in an unusual gesture, urged his sworn enemy Saddam to quit Kuwait or face a catastrophe that would only benefit Israel - a common enemy.
In a radio broadcast heard in Iraq, Assad told Saddam that Baghdad "should take the courageous decision to spare Iraq a major catastrophe in order not to enable the enemies of the Arab nation to gain benefit from the present situation."
The broadcast came as Secretary of State James A. Baker III was in Damascus for talks with Assad, a key Arab member of the U.S.-dominated coalition against Iraq. He later flew to Turkey.
Baker said he welcomed the diplomatic intervention of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who according to the White House has launched a new initiative to resolve the gulf crisis.
The White House would not provide details of the Soviet initiative, although a U.S. official traveling with Baker said it differs from other peace proposals in not calling for an international conference to resolve the Palestinian conflict.
Also Saturday, the commander of the U.S. Navy's Middle East Force accused Iraq of sowing mines in the gulf, and said U.S.-led forces have detonated 17 in the region since December.
"This is a threat to be taken seriously," Rear Adm. William M. Fogarty said in Bahrain, adding that some of the mines apparently broke free from Iraqi defenses off the coast of Kuwait.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency reported that Iranian tankers in the gulf have spotted 200 drifting mines over the past four days. They could pose a threat to the more than 100 ships in U.S.-led armada arrayed against Iraq in the region.
The United States was the latest nation to evacuate its personnel from Baghdad. Germany, Greece and Australia have also sent embassy staff home. At least 13 embassies have said they will follow suit.
More than 600,000 troops in the multinational force, including 360,000 Americans, confront 540,000 Iraqi troops in southern Iraq and Kuwait. Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2 in a dispute over land, oil and money.
In another development Saturday, tens of thousands of demonstrators filled Europe's streets, parks and market squares to protest military involvement in the gulf.