Secretary of State James Baker is taking a detour from his troubled Mideast mission to inspect Kuwait's slow-paced political reform and lingering wartime havoc.

But before leaving Saudi Arabia Monday, he met again with Prince Saud, the Saudi foreign minister, who confirmed on Sunday that the Arab kingdom would not engage in peace negotiations with Israel.Even so, King Fahd said on Sunday, "All of us wish for peace in the region." Fahd met with Baker for three hours.

"Our ardent hope is that peace is achieved in this region," the king said. "This is the important thing."

Having sent American troops to war to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi annexation, President Bush is sending Baker to show an active U.S. interest in the oil-rich emirate after the conflict.

Baker planned to inspect burning oil fields and to confer with the Emir Jabir al-Ahmed Sabah and Crown Prince Saad Abdullah al Sabah after a report last week by Amnesty International that human rights abuses, including torture and executions, had swept Kuwait since it was liberated in February.

Hours before Baker was to arrive, opposition groups in Kuwait tried to hold a news conference but were denied permission by the government, which had the lights turned off.

Officials said the government instructed the hotel to turn off the lights in the ballroom where the news conference was to be held. The groups said the action showed that the ruling al-Sabah family is not sincere about allowing greater democracy and free speech.

Afterward visiting Kuwait, Baker was to fly to Damascus for discussions with Syrian President Hafez Assad and Foreign Minister Farouk Sharaa.