More than 100 former American hostages landed safely yesterday in Washington and Frankfurt, West Germany, elated to be free but worried over loved ones left behind in Iraq and Kuwait as diplomatic efforts this weekend failed to make any progress in the month-old Persian Gulf crisis.
As relatives embraced released hostages here and abroad, U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar announced in Amman, Jordan, that his talks with Iraq's foreign minister had failed. "I must acknowledge a certain disappointment because I had hoped for more in my discussions with Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz," he told reporters.
Perez de Cuellar said the only sign of flexibility exhibited by Iraq was to allow three planes carrying more than 600 American, Western European and Japanese hostages, most of them women and children, to leave Baghdad.
The U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iraq withdraw its troops from neighboring Kuwait, which it invaded Aug. 2, and has imposed economic sanctions on Baghdad to force it to comply.
But Perez de Cuellar said he could report no progress to the Security Council "nor can I anticipate the council's reaction." He said he saw no sign of any softening of Iraq's refusal to withdraw from Kuwait.
President Bush, who has said that U.S. policy will not be affected by the presence of hostages in Iraq and Kuwait, declined to comment on the captives' release. The State Department sent only a low-level official to greet the 47 former U.S. hostages who arrived yesterday morning at Dulles International Airport after an all-night flight from Baghdad.
Some of the freed Americans were critical of U.S. policy toward them, although most of those who spoke publicly were critical of Iraq and its president, Saddam Hussein.
A similar scene occurred in London, where the Dulles-bound jet stopped earlier. Many of the British hostages said they had not been put up in luxury as Iraqi officials repeatedly asserted. One said that Britons defied an Iraqi order that they read a statement on an Iraqi television broadcast saying they enjoyed being "a guest" in Iraq.
The Iraqis are "masters of talking out of both sides of their mouths," said Bonnie Anderton, who arrived at Dulles with her 10-year-old daughter, Jennifer. Her husband, Richard, was forced by the Iraqis to stay in Kuwait.
An estimated 1,500 U.S. citizens remain trapped in the two nations, about half the number that were there at the start of the invasion, the State Department said yesterday. A spokesman said U.S. citizens have been escaping any way they can -- most of them across the desert to Saudi Arabia or Jordan.
Many of those remaining, including thousands of others from Western Europe and some from Japan, have been taken to military installations in Iraq as "human shields" to deter an attack from the United States, which has amassed thousands of troops and weapons in Saudi Arabia to prevent an Iraqi invasion of that oil-producing nation.
Saddam promised last Tuesday to release all foreign women and children held in the two countries, but the returning Americans said they were "skeptical" of the pledge until the three planes filled with hundreds of Westerners and Japanese left Iraq Saturday. One plane took 65 Americans and several hundred Europeans to Frankfurt early yesterday. Another took Japanese citizens to Amman, where they boarded flights to the Far East.
Although the president declined to comment on the events yesterday, a State Department spokesman said "there is little room to place confidence in Iraqi promises."
"We and other governments are continuing to press Iraq to release all of these people," the spokesman said. "We hope that this flight is one of many which will carry out those forced to stay in Iraq and Kuwait against their will."
Jesse L. Jackson, who met twice with Saddam in Baghdad last week and flew into Dulles with the freed Americans, said he assisted in the release of some of the hostages. He called the release a "desperate attempt to make some point of contact" on Saddam's part.
The flight first stopped in Paris to drop off 22 French citizens, then continued to London, where 199 Britons deplaned. Some of those released in London said they were held in dormitories on military bases where the lights were kept on all night, contrary to Iraqi claims that they were housed in luxury hotels.
Most said they had been given adequate food and not abused by their guards. But uncertainty over what was going on -- and what might happen next -- gnawed at them constantly.
Alma Pennington, one of the Britons who had been shown on Iraqi television, said the hostages had defied Iraqi orders that they read from a propaganda script. "They wanted us to say we enjoyed being a guest . . . being a pawn on a chessboard, and no one would say it," she said.
Janice Liddle said her children had written the word "hostage" on paper airplanes and thrown them out of their hotel window in Baghdad.
Meanwhile British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned yesterday that Iraqi officials, including Saddam, would face Nuremberg-style trials for war crimes if any remaining hostages were harmed.
"I do not want them to think they are going to get away with it, because they won't," Thatcher said.
Her foreign minister, Douglas Hurd, speaking to reporters in Oman, said Britain and the United States were considering whether to impose an air embargo to augment the sea effort.
When the white Iraqi Airways Boeing 747 bearing 47 Americans and two Canadians touched down at Dulles at 9:38 a.m. yesterday, passengers burst into wild applause. The Americans were 11 men, 24 women and 12 children.
One woman, Odessa Higgins, 55, formerly of Texarkana, Tex., was taken to Sibley Hospital. A hospital spokeswoman said that Higgins, a secretary in the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, was admitted with a hip fracture and is in "good" condition.
Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Mashat was also at the airport and said the trip, which Iraq paid for, shows his government's good intentions. He talked at a news conference at Dulles that included Jackson and several former hostages.
Lloyd Culbertson, who spent three weeks hiding out in the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, quickly blasted the ambassador, saying, "He lies to the American people, and he lied to them today. I wasn't a guest; I damn near starved to death."
But Culbertson, 76, of El Paso, Tex., also attacked the Bush administration's handling of the crisis.
"If it were not for the grace of God and Jesse Jackson, we would not be here," he said. "The State Department has not lifted a hand for us. The people I left 24 hours ago are starving and nobody is doing anything about them."
In other developments, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on NBC News's "Meet the Press" that when Bush meets Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev next Sunday in Helsinki, he should thank Gorbachev for supporting U.S. Persian Gulf policy, but also ask him to remove the approximately 200 Soviet military technicians stationed in Iraq.
Nunn, echoing remarks by Britain's Thatcher yesterday, also said it might become necessary for the United States to use force to oust Iraqi occupation forces from Kuwait, but added that the U.N. trade embargo and naval blockade should first be given time to work.
Staff writers Patricia Davis and Patrick E. Tyler in Washington and correspondent Glenn Frankel in London contributed to this report.