BRUSSELS, SEPT. 10 -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III said today the United States "would welcome" the presence of European ground forces in the Persian Gulf, "even if only symbolic," but he got no assurances that the Europeans would approve his request.
The NATO foreign ministers, meeting here for a briefing from Baker on Sunday's superpower summit, promised to provide ships and planes to expedite transport of more U.S. and Egyptian forces to the Persian Gulf. But apart from Britain, which said it would give Baker's troop request "active consideration," the allies appeared wary of sending ground forces.
Confronted by growing pressure from Congress to see the allies place soldiers at the front line in the confrontation with Iraq, the European ministers said they would study the request. But several European officials said it was doubtful that Baker's appeal would receive a positive response because of allied concerns about being dragged inadvertently into armed conflict in the gulf.
As part of the U.S. drive for sharing of responsibility, Baker announced that Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had expanded their aid pledges to $12 billion for the remainder of this year. He said half of that sum would be devoted to American military costs, including what he called "in-kind" payments from the Saudis in the form of fuel, water and other necessities for U.S. troops.
Latest Pentagon estimates for the vast military buildup of Operation Desert Shield put its cost at a little more than $1 billion a month. If those figures prove accurate, the financial support from the sheikdoms would more than cover U.S. military expenses in the gulf this year.
The remaining $6 billion from the wealthy gulf nations is primarily destined to buttress the economies of Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, which have been hurt by the impact of the global trade embargo against Iraq. On Friday, the 12 member states of the European Community promised to deliver more than $2 billion in economic assistance for the three countries.
Baker reported to his colleagues in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that "no real substantive differences" emerged during the seven hours of discussion held by President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in the Finnish capital Sunday. He praised the Soviets for acting as "very reliable partners" in the worldwide coalition that has virtually isolated the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner said the allies welcomed the outcome of the summit meeting and Gorbachev's willingness to join them in ensuring that global sanctions against Iraq "must be watertight."
"The crisis unleashed by Iraq is not one between individual nations," the former West German defense minister said. "It is a struggle between the rule of law and the rule of the gun."
Beyond the unanimity expressed for the United Nations sanctions, Woerner said after the meeting, "there is a feeling that the allies can and should do more." While shying away from commitments of ground forces, several European allies vowed to undertake new tasks in assisting the U.S. military buildup.
Baker said he had requested senior military planners at NATO to coordinate "substantial sea and airlift contributions" pledged by the allies at today's meeting. He said the alliance's naval presence would be bolstered in the eastern Mediterranean and airborne radar warning systems extended to help protect the flanks of fellow NATO member Turkey.
Listing the latest offers of help from various NATO allies, Baker said West Germany offered ships and planes to carry more U.S. forces to the gulf while Denmark and Norway promised use of their ships to move additional Egyptian troops to Saudi Arabia.
Belgium said aircraft would be made available to Egypt to evacuate their refugees from Kuwait and an extra 20,000 tons of wheat would be sent to Cairo to alleviate bread shortages. The Netherlands, meanwhile, promised to deliver antidotes against possible chemical and biological weapons.
In asking for at least a token allied presence on the ground, Baker pointed out that among the 16 NATO members, only the United States and Turkey have significant numbers of ground troops in the region.
France and Britain, the two Western allies with the largest air and naval units in the region after the United States, have some troops on the ground, but they are serving mainly in a support capacity for air and sea forces. Other European countries have sent naval vessels but only as symbols of their backing for the U.N. embargo.