THE BAKER-AZIZ meeting, turning from suspenseful to anticlimactic, failed to move the Gulf crisis toward a political solution. Or did it? The likeliest settlement scenario has always been a last-minute retreat from the brink by Saddam Hussein. With six days to go, that remains as possible as it was before Geneva. As the leader of a nation rich in resentment as well as history, he may prefer to climb down, if at all, to someone other than the United States -- perhaps to promoters of the "Arab solution," which his foreign minister lauded yesterday. The secretary general of the United Nations is hitting the diplomatic trail, and the Europeans, too. There is no shortage of competent expediters.
Mr. Aziz's remarks after the six-hour meeting were mostly an exercise in evasion. He has a point when he complains that the United States has been more energetic in enforcing Kuwait resolutions than Palestine resolutions. But the basic problem of the Palestinians is one the Bush administration was working on before the Gulf crisis. And nothing alters the fact that the invasion of Kuwait had zero to do with Palestine; it was strictly an act of Iraqi imperialism. To pretend otherwise is laughable.
A further difference: Israel acquired the West Bank nearly a quarter-century ago in the course of self-defense, and despite everything has left its future open for a disposition in which Palestinians could yet participate, while Iraq acquired Kuwait by raw aggression just five months ago and has wiped it off the map. Mr. Aziz, affirming Iraq's intent to attack Israel in a war, not only demonstrated the Iraqi capacity for miscalculation. He also displayed a chilling cynicism utterly at odds with his professions of readiness for regional cooperation.
Unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait remains the basis for resolving this crisis. But Iraq is not even within range of those who would run with politically or territorially conditional withdrawal. As the American government keeps saying, there can be no reward of aggression, as there would be even if Baghdad's gauzy hints of linkage were made concrete.
Today Congress turns to the matter of a Gulf resolution. This is the right moment. The diplomacy is not over, but President Bush has relevant new evidence on his side: the stonewalling with which the Iraqis met a direct American presentation, on top of all the presentations by others, of the U.N. position.