KUWAIT, JULY 31 -- Iraq and Kuwait opened talks in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, today intended to end a two-week-old military confrontation, but Iraq's official news media continued to demand concessions by the smaller Persian Gulf neighbor.
"Iraq attends the Jiddah meeting to regain its rights and not to hear new talk about 'fraternity and solidarity,' which yields nothing," said Al Jumhuriya, a government-controlled newspaper in Baghdad. The newspaper reiterated Iraq's claims that Kuwait seized Iraqi territory and stole oil worth $2.4 billion from disputed oilfields along their border.
Al Thawra, another state-controlled Baghdad newspaper, declared that responding to Iraq's demands "is undoubtedly the correct and appropriate ground for any serious dialogue."
In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State John H. Kelly expressed concern about Iraq's military buildup near Kuwait's border over the past several days, but declined to confirm reports it numbered 100,000 troops. "But I can tell you it is a very large, significant military force," he told a meeting of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East today.
Kelly reiterated the U.S. position to "do all we can to support our friends when they are threatened and to preserve stability," but he pointed out that the United States has no defense treaty with any gulf country.
He said, however, that the United States is continuing a joint air-refueling exercise with the United Arab Emirates and that U.S. Navy ships in the gulf "have increased their vigilance."
"Iraq is a major power in the region. This power carries responsibility with it. We would hope that Iraq would act in a manner that demonstrates it appreciates this point," Kelly added.
Iraq's tough stance contrasted with the conciliatory tone today of Kuwait's crown prince and prime minister, Sheik Saad Abdullah Sabah.
"I am looking forward with an open heart to the meeting with my brother Izzat Ibrahim," he said upon arrival in Jiddah, adding that he hoped for a speedy end to the "passing crisis" between "two sisterly countries."
Ibrahim, who is vice chairman of Iraq's ruling Revolutionary Command Council, heads his country's delegation.
The two held closed talks today after meeting with Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, the Kuwaiti news agency reported.
Fahd is hosting the talks, which Arab meditators hope will defuse the confrontation that has raised tensions in the region to their highest level since the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988.
Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has accused Kuwait and the UAE of conspiring with the United States to drive down oil prices by producing more than the assigned quotas. Iraq also has accused Kuwait of territorial violations and has demanded that Kuwait cancel Iraq's war debts, estimated at $10 billion and contribute to a reconstruction fund for Iraq.
There has been no indication how long the Jiddah discussions will last. Some diplomats here are pessimistic they will quickly resolve the dispute, and say the talks may only be the prelude to long bargaining.
Iraq has said it wants the talks to reconvene in Baghdad after an initial session here, but Kuwait, which has not commented on this, is thought to prefer a more neutral site.
Staff writer Nora Boustany in Washington contributed to this article.