As the allies marshaled land, sea and air forces for a possible all-out assault on Iraqi forces, President Bush told the Soviets their 11th-hour peace plan fell short of U.S. expectations.
"As far as I'm concerned, there are no negotiations, no concessions," Bush said in Washington. He said he had conveyed his opinions about the peace plan to Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.Bush noted Gorbachev asked him to keep details of the Moscow offer confidential "and I'm going to do that."
"I will respect that request in the interests of thoroughly exploring the initiative," the president said at a picture-taking session at the White House. "But, very candidly . . . while expressing appreciation for his sending it to us, it falls well short of what would be required."
Also Tuesday, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheik Sabah al-Ahmed was quoted as saying his government will not negotiate with Iraq even if Saddam Hussein's forces leave Kuwait. "We will not hold talks or negotiations after withdrawal, neither with the present nor with a new Iraqi leadership," Al-Ittihad, a newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, quoted him as saying.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was en route to Baghdad from Moscow Tuesday, where Gorbachev offered the new peace plan Monday. The Soviet plan is said to include a guarantee that Saddam can stay in power if he pulls his armies out of Kuwait now.
Iraq offered Friday to withdraw from Kuwait, but the offer was rejected by the allies because of conditions attached.
There was no pause in the air war Tuesday, and concern grew over Iraqi mines in the northern gulf after it was disclosed that a mine blast had disabled a billion-dollar warship, the biggest U.S. materiel loss of the war.
Baghdad came under repeated bombardment overnight, the heaviest onslaught in several days, AP correspondent John Rice reported from the Iraqi capital. Black clouds of smoke drifted over the city, and streaks of red-and-white anti-aircraft fire illuminated the night sky, he said.
At a Red Crescent distribution center in Baghdad Tuesday, thousands of people crowded around five trucks that brought pita bread from Jordan. Dr. Ibrahim al-Nouri, head of the Iraqi Red Crescent, appealed for more international aid, saying medicine and food are in extremely short supply.An Iraqi military communique broadcast by Baghdad radio Tuesday said allied air raids hit 65 civilian targets and 179 military targets in the past 24 hours. It said the "barbaric raids" had not demoralized the Iraqi public.
Baghdad's state newspapers had no reports Tuesday on the Soviet peace plan.
However, Soviet Middle East envoy Yevgeny Primakov, who attended the Aziz-Gorbachev meeting, called on the allies to hold off on any ground offensive.
In the war zone, allied forces worked on land, sea and air to strip Iraqi forces of the will and the means to fight.
In northern Saudi Arabia, U.S. troops repositioned themselves, seeking to keep the Iraqis guessing. Along the border, allied reconnaissance teams stole across 12-foot protective berms into the no-man's-land between opposing lines.
In the treacherous waters of the northern Persian Gulf, allied minesweepers intensified efforts to find and explode mines.
The missile cruiser USS Princeton, one of two U.S. warships to sustain mine damage Monday, was sent to a gulf port for damage assessment although U.S. military officials said it was already clear the ship was badly damaged.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 9,600-ton ship suffered cracks in its superstructure and other damage in the blast, which lifted it partly out of the water. Three crewmen were hurt.
The other U.S. vessel damaged Monday was the USS Tripoli, a helicopter assault carrier serving as flagship for the newly mounted mine-clearing operation. It remained on station Tuesday after the crew patched a hole in its hull, military officials said.
The Tripoli apparently hit a contact mine. The Princeton appeared to have set off an "influence mine," which can be triggered by the noise, water pressure or the magnetic "signature" of a ship approaching or passing overhead, military officials said.
The Iraqis are known to possess influence mines - which are harder to find and destroy - but had not used them previously.
"We weren't really expecting it," one military official said Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity. "It's a definite threat," another said.
The explosions renewed concerns that Iraq has thickly seeded the coastal waters with mines, which could imperil any plans for an amphibious landing.
Military sources said allied minesweeping vessels, built mainly of wood or plastic to avoid setting off magnetic mines, were zeroing in on areas that might be important in such an assault.
Iraq's losses reportedly already were mounting. A senior Iraqi official was quoted by an Iranian newspaper Tuesday as saying more than 20,000 Iraqis were killed and 60,000 wounded in the war's first four weeks.
Iraq's deputy prime minister, Saadoun Hammadi, reported those figures to Iranian officials, the Jomhuri Islami newspaper said. It did not provide a breakdown of civilian and military deaths.