President Bush yesterday dashed speculation that a new diplomatic solution to the Persian Gulf crisis was brewing, saying he remains determined that Iraqi aggression against Kuwait "not be rewarded by some compromise."
Bush's statement came as he met for more than an hour with Yevgeny Primakov, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's special emissary to Iraq, to review the situation in the gulf. Primakov met with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein earlier this month.
Saying he is prepared to "stay the course" in the gulf, Bush said, "I am as determined as I was the day the first troop left that Saddam Hussein's aggression not be rewarded by some compromise, not be rewarded by our failing to get him totally out of Kuwait or restore the legitimate rulers," Bush said at a Rose Garden ceremony.
Primakov, speaking briefly to reporters as he left the White House, said that while the two nations agree on gulf policy, the Soviets still hope to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
"I believe we should not rule out the possibilities of a peaceful solution until we have exhausted all options," he said.
White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Bush also believes that the United States and other nations should seek a peaceful withdrawal of Iraq from Kuwait but reiterated that the international community "is prepared to consider alternative options."
"The president's resolve was firm and firmly expressed," Fitzwater said.
The Soviet official's visit had generated speculation that he was carrying a proposal from Gorbachev for a diplomatic initiative that might include some face-saving compromise for Saddam. But Fitzwater said the Soviet official carried no special message or initiative.
Administration officials, pointing out that Primakov had privately reassured Bush that "we're with you" on demanding full implementation of resolutions passed by the United Nations, provided a fresh setting to send a public signal to Saddam "that the two superpowers are working in tandem."
One official called it a follow-up to the Bush-Gorbachev summit last month in Helsinki.
A senior administration official said Primakov had not come with an "optimistic point of view" on the situation in the gulf. The Soviet official, who has known Saddam 20 years, said he found the Iraqi leader isolated from reality and indicated he had tried to persuade Saddam that the international community is solidly against him.
Administration sources said expectations for yesterday's meeting had become "overblown" in recent days, emphasizing that there was no evidence of increased flexibility from the Iraqis. Primakov had gone to Baghdad principally to examine the state of Soviet citizens trapped there.
While there he was able to visit with Saddam. But in that meeting, one source said, Saddam had largely restated the Iraqi line, and Primakov had responded that the Iraqis had to comply with the U.N. resolutions.
Fitzwater said Bush also used the meeting with Primakov to reaffirm the U.S. position that there should be no linkage between the Persian Gulf conflict and a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
Bush and Primakov briefly discussed possible new resolutions for the United Nations to consider, particularly one referring to Iraqi treatment of embassies in Kuwait.
Fewer than 10 U.S. diplomats remain holed up in the American embassy in Kuwait City. "We are reaching a point where the U.N. resolution becomes very important," Fitzwater said.
With supplies of food and power dwindling, some action will have to be taken soon to resupply the mission or "remove or otherwise ensure the safety" of U.S. personnel there, he said.
Staff writer David Hoffman contributed to this report.