President Bush denounced Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in harsh, personal terms yesterday, declaring that he has "lied to his Arab neighbors," "invaded an Arab state" and "now threatens the Arab nation" with his continued occupation of Kuwait.
Bush spoke to Pentagon employees after being briefed on the military situation in the Persian Gulf. His remarks contrasted sharply with milder language he used to discuss the gulf conflict at a news conference Tuesday.
As the U.S. military's massive deployment of weapons and troops to the region continued yesterday, the State Department acknowledged that Iraq has now defined the thousands of Americans and other foreigners trapped there as "restrictees" to be used as bargaining chips or shields until the conflict is over. U.S. officials said they were growing more concerned by what appear to be new limits being placed on both civilians and diplomats in Iraq and Kuwait. There were reports yesterday of food shortages and looting of residences in Kuwait.
Bush prepared to meet today in Kennebunkport, Maine, with King Hussein of Jordan as the White House announced that Saudi Foreign Minister Saud Faisal was flying to the United States for an urgent meeting with Bush after the president sees Hussein.
U.S. officials suffered a setback in their planning for "interdiction" of Iraqi-bound ships yesterday when Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak said his country is not willing to hold a multinational naval conference next week for all countries that plan to participate in what some have described as a blockade.
An administration official said the Persian Gulf emirate of Bahrain also had declined to host a conference.
Australian Foreign Minister Garth Evans backed down this week from previous statements that the three Australian warships headed for the region would stop vessels believed to be violating the United Nations sanctions.
Instead, he said, the Australian ships would only interrogate ships and warn them against breaking the embargo.
U.S. and British warships kept a close eye on shipping in the region. Israeli sources said three ships carrying Polish and Soviet-made arms bound for Iraq were moving toward the Suez Canal with the final aim of docking at the Jordanian port of Aqaba.
However, U.S. officials said the Polish ship had been turned back to port in Tripoli. The U.S. officials said they believe that the Soviets are honoring the embargo and knew of no Soviet arms ships headed for Iraq.
The military continued the vast mobilization of forces to Saudi Arabia. The Pentagon confirmed reports that the Air Force's high technology F-117A "stealth" fighter is being deployed to the region along with F-4 fighter planes from George Air Force Base, Calif. A fourth aircraft carrier group led by the USS John F. Kennedy left Norfolk for the region, and elements of a 13-ship amphibious fleet carrying tons of Marine Corps weapons and equipment also got underway.
Military officials said more than 20,000 troops have arrived in Saudi Arabia, with as many as 200,000 scheduled to arrive over the coming weeks.
Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney yesterday also continued weighing recommendations that he ask President Bush to order the activation of guard and reserve units to assist in Operation Desert Shield and to fill jobs left vacant in the United States and other parts of the world because of the Middle East deployments. But Cheney has not yet made a decision, officials said.
At the Pentagon, Bush was briefed by Cheney and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin L. Powell, on the proposed "rules of engagement" for U.S. warships that will enforce the U.N. embargo. One official said there has been "a certain bureaucratic confusion" in getting specific instructions to the fleet.
In his fiery address at the
Pentagon, Bush declared, "Saddam has claimed that this is a holy war of Arab against infidel. This from the man who has used poison gas against the men, women and children of his own country, who
invaded Iran in a war that cost the lives of more than half a million Moslems, and who now plunders Kuwait. Atrocities have been committed by Saddam's soldiers and henchmen. The reports out of Kuwait tell a sordid tale of brutality."
Bush's remarks, which were more pointed and personal about Saddam than his previous comments in the two-week-old gulf crisis, seemed to reflect the American goal of braking and reversing Saddam's rise as a regional power. Bush said Saddam's "ruinous policies of war against other Moslems" have "transformed wealth into poverty," and "sadly it is the Iraqi people who suffer today because of the raw territorial ambition of Saddam Hussein."
"Our action in the gulf is not about religion, greed or cultural differences," Bush said. Rather, he said, at stake is "access to energy resources that are key, not just to the functioning of this country, but to the entire world. Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom and the freedom of friendly countries around the world would all suffer if control of the world's greatest oil reserves fell into the hands of that one man -- Saddam Hussein."
"Our action in the gulf is about fighting aggression -- and preserving the sovereignty of nations," Bush said. "It is about keeping
our word . . . and standing by
old friends. It is about our own national security interests and ensuring the peace and stability of the world."
Regarding conditions in Kuwait, the British Foreign Office said
yesterday it had reports of wholesale looting, although gasoline and food remained available. Reports of looting also reached the United States.
"Food and water is a problem and we believe that is why we are seeing more ransacking of homes and looting," said an administration
official. The official reported
that Iraqi soldiers broke into the home of Barbara Bodine, the deputy chief of mission at the United States Embassy, and raided the liquor cabinet. They got drunk and then found a package of dog food, which they fried and ate, the official said.
A Dutch journalist who escaped from Kuwait told of scores of foreigners wandering in the desert around Kuwait's border with Saudi Arabia, seeking a way out. The Philippine government reported that two Filipino women died while crossing the border Tuesday, but no details were available.
In other developments in the region yesterday, Turkish customs officials at the eastern Mediterranean port of Mersin refused to permit two freighters carrying food for Iraq to unload, although both ships had sailed from South American ports before the U.N. embargo was put into effect.
Bangladesh announced it would send a "token military contingent" to supplement the multinational force being assembled in Saudi Arabia.
On the eve of Bush's meeting with Hussein, administration officials discounted reports that he is carrying an important message from Saddam. "People are not sitting on the edge of their seats," one official said. Even if the king is carrying a message, he said, it is not likely to be taken seriously. "He did not, when he asked to meet, portray himself as an envoy for Saddam," the official said.
U.S. officials said they are concerned about the amount of money it will take to persuade Hussein to join the United States and other nations trying to isolate Saddam. Whereas Turkey put at risk about $2 billion a year in trade with Iraq when it began enforcing the embargo, that represents only 3 percent of Turkey's GNP. However, U.S. officials estimate that Jordan's trade with Iraq is $900 million a year, or about 25 percent of Jordan's annual output.
"We are asking them to flush their economy down the drain,"
said one official. "The economic implications for Jordan are staggering."
Staff writers Molly Moore and Dan Balz contributed to this report from Washington, foreign correspondent Jackson Diehl from Jerusalem and special correspondent Thomas Goltz from Ankara.
An excerpt from President Bush's remarks yesterday:
. . . Saddam Hussein would have us believe that his unprovoked invasion of a friendly Arab nation is a struggle between Arabs and Americans. And that is clearly false. It is Saddam who lied to his Arab neighbors. It is Saddam who invaded an Arab state. It is Saddam who now threatens the Arab nation. We, by contrast, seek to assist our Arab friends in their hour of need.
Saddam has claimed that this is a holy war of Arab against infidel. This from the man who has used poison gas against the men, women, and children of his own country, who invaded Iran in a war that cost the lives of more than half a million Muslims, and who now plunders Kuwait. Atrocities have been committed by Saddam's soldiers and henchmen. The reports out of Kuwait tell a sordid tale of brutality.
And Saddam would also have us believe that this is a struggle between the "haves" and the "have nots." But Iraq is one of the "haves": for, you see, next to Saudi Arabia, Iraq has the largest oil reserves in the world. But thanks to Saddam's ruinous policies of war against other Muslims, he, Saddam Hussein, has transformed wealth into poverty. And, sadly, it is the Iraqi people who suffer today because of the raw territorial ambition of Saddam Hussein.
Our action in the Gulf is not about religion, greed, or cultural differences, as Iraq's leader would have us believe. What is at stake is truly vital.
Our action in the Gulf is about fighting aggression -- and preserving the sovereignty of nations. It is about keeping our word and standing by old friends. And it is about our own national security interests and ensuring the peace and stability of the world.
And we are also talking about maintaining access to energy resources that are key not just to the functioning of this country, but to the entire world. Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom and the freedom of friendly countries around the world would all suffer if control of the world's great oil reserves fell into the hands of that one man, Saddam Hussein.
And so we have made our stand not simply to protect resources or real estate, but to protect the freedom of nations. We are making good on longstanding assurances to protect and defend our friends, who have the courage to stand up to evil and are asking for our help.
We are striking a blow for the principle that might does not make right. Kuwait is small. But one conquered nation is one too many . . . .