German and Belgian officials said yesterday that the last of their diplomats assigned to Kuwait City have left the Iraqi-occupied capital, a move that further isolates the remaining U.S. Embassy personnel there.
Defying the Iraqi deadline to close all embassies by Aug. 24, the United States, Canada, France and Britain are the last Western missions to stay open. The skeleton diplomatic crews continue to function under severe hardships, including deprivation of water and electricity cut off by Iraqi troops weeks ago.
"We plan to continue to do our work," said a U.S. official. "It demonstrates our conviction that the Iraqi invasion has changed nothing about the legitimacy of Kuwait."
Out of food, the Germans and Belgians joined the diplomats of dozens of other nations that have had to close their missions for reasons of survival, not recognition of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's declared annexation of Kuwait as the 19th province of Iraq.
With Iraqi forces surrounding the U.S. Embassy and blocking supplies, Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell and seven diplomats are holed up in the sprawling compound with water and food stockpiled after the Iraqi invasion Aug. 2. Lack of bathing facilities and air conditioning in the torrid desert climate has raised discomfort levels but caused no medical emergencies, officials said.
"For the time being, they're okay," said one official. "We don't want to speculate for how long."
Telephone contact within Kuwait City remains possible, allowing communications between the embassy and the remaining American community, now numbering about 500, officials said.
Some of the 42 Americans who sought refuge in the embassy are still there, but the State Department refused to say how many.
The embassy continues to send daily reports to Washington, using a secure telex line powered by an electric power generator, according to an official. Telephone links have not been possible for weeks.
"It hasn't affected our ability to operate," an official said. "The conditions at our embassy remain essentially unchanged."
An official familiar with the embassy's situation said that after weeks of isolation, the diplomatic holdouts face some frustration. "There's a down factor," he said.
Serving as a symbol of resistance to Iraq's invasion and providing consular assistance to Americans still in Kuwait, embassy personnel are determined to stay "until we absolutely have to leave," he said. "We don't want to be shut down by fiat."