The Bush administration, accusing Saddam Hussein of trying to wipe Kuwait "off the face of the map," yesterday threatened to seek new sanctions against Iraq and suggested the destruction of Kuwait is causing the administration to reassess how long it can wait for economic sanctions to produce a solution to the Persian Gulf crisis.
National security adviser Brent Scowcroft said the "whole element of what the Iraqis are doing inside Kuwait to a whole people could conceivably be the subject of another United Nations action." He added that "there is no question that what's happening in Kuwait affects the timetable" under which the administration has called for sufficient time to allow sanctions to work.
The administration used yesterday's visit to the White House by the exiled emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah, to highlight what it called Saddam's effort to destroy and repopulate occupied Kuwait. Bush, with the emir at his side, said Iraq has "ransacked and pillaged a once peaceful and secure country, its population assaulted, incarcerated, intimidated and even murdered."
Bush added that Iraq's leaders are "trying to wipe an internationally recognized sovereign state . . . off the map." Iraq, he said, "will fail. Kuwait, free Kuwait, will endure."
The president said he had assured the emir that America's "resolve to end this aggression against Kuwait remains firm and undiminished" and he repeated the administration's formulation that an unspecified amount of time is needed to see if the economic sanctions work before other actions would be taken.
Scowcroft said the emir had not "in so many words" asked Bush to strike militarily to regain Kuwait now, but "you can subliminally read between the lines if you wish." He added, "What the emir says is his country is being destroyed now, and that the longer the situation goes on the way it is, the less there will be of what is recognizable as Kuwait."
Since last week, administration officials increasingly have cited conditions in Kuwait when they discuss how long Bush will wait for economic sanctions to work. Last Friday, in a meeting with congressional leaders on the gulf situation, Bush cited in some detail reports of destruction in Kuwait to give what several officials viewed as a pessimistic assessment of the chances of a peaceful solution.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) told reporters yesterday that Bush appeared "much more hawkish" in that meeting. Bush told the congressional leaders that "we're very worried about what is going on in Kuwait" and said "the plundering of Kuwait may reduce the time we have to allow the embargo to work," Aspin said.
Scowcroft yesterday said the emir had taken "some time" telling Bush of "a terrifying situation inside Kuwait," including "atrocities being committed by Arabs against Arabs," and of the "systematic destruction" of the country, including the looting of "everything movable, of what even is not movable."
He said, for example, that the Iraqis were removing babies from incubators and taking terminally ill patients off life support systems and shipping the equipment to Iraq.
Beyond that, he said, the Iraqis were "repopulating" Kuwait by taking the identity documents and citizenship papers of Kuwaitis forced out of Iraq and giving the papers to Iraqis. He speculated that one reason for the repopulation was so that if elections are ever held in Kuwait, Iraqis would be in place to portray themselves as Kuwaitis.
Scowcroft said the United States was considering, but so far had not formulated, a new request to the United Nations for its ninth action on the gulf crisis. "The atrocities, the devastation inside Kuwait, really are worthy of world attention," he said, "and a U.N. resolution is one way to bring that kind of attention on it."
He said it is conceivable the United States would ask for a U.N. condemnation that mentions the military option available under Article 41, which authorizes the use of "all appropriate measures" including force, to enforce sanctions.
Scowcroft also yesterday described as "an act of aggression" the Iraqi announcement that as of Monday foreigners will not be given access to rationed food there. "Those people are being held against their will and therefore in a sense they are the direct responsibility of the government of Iraq," he said.
In the Senate, Democratic and Republican leaders introduced a resolution endorsing the president's Persian Gulf policy but stopping short of giving him a free hand to initiate an attack on Iraq.
The resolution, submitted after lengthy negotiations among Democrats that touched on the sensitive issue of congressional war-making powers, was similar to a lengthier resolution approved Thursday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
The Senate proposal expressed support for "continued action by the president . . . to deter Iraqi aggression and to protect American lives and vital interests" under conditions that included compliance with U.S. "constitutional and statutory processes, including the authorization and appropriation of funds by the Congress."
Sources said the language on presidential and congressional authority was intended to be vague in order to avoid dispute and dissenting votes.