JIDDAH, SAUDI ARABIA, NOV. 5 -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia agreed tonight on a framework for command and control over American and Saudi military forces here if the confrontation with Iraq turns to war, according to U.S. and Saudi officials. But Baker also indicated he wants to give economic sanctions against Iraq and diplomacy more time to work.
The command agreement appeared to remove one persistent obstacle to preparation for a possible military strike against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, and the announcement that both sides are now satisfied with the arrangement seemed to be yet another effort to increase the pressure on him.
Baker said earlier today that a "new phase" had begun in the Persian Gulf crisis in which the global community is prepared to "resort to force" if a peaceful solution is not found.
But senior U.S. officials emphasized today that Baker, while turning up the pressure on Saddam, would also like more time before using the military option, to give political and diplomatic efforts a better chance to resolve the crisis.
Recalling Baker's visit with the 1st Cavalry Division in the desert this week, a senior U.S. official told reporters tonight, "Before we commit young Americans" to war, "I think we owe it to them and to others to have done everything we possibly can to try to pursue the diplomatic, political and peaceful means of solving this crisis."
A senior Saudi diplomat said of the political and diplomatic pressure campaign against Saddam, "It beats the heck out of shooting."
With its simultaneous talk of war and diplomacy, the Bush administration appeared today to be trying to send different signals to different global audiences. For the U.S. public, the message appeared to be that conflict is not imminent despite the strident rhetoric recently from Baker and President Bush.
According to a senior U.S. official familiar with the talks, Baker and Fahd agreed to leave in place the current military command structure, which includes a separate U.S. command over American forces and an Arab command under Saudi leadership. The commander of U.S. forces in the region, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, works in tandem with Saudi Lt. Gen. Khalid bin Sultan, who commands all Saudi, Arab and some other multinational forces.
But the question of lines of command and who could decide to go to war involves extremely sensitive issues of national sovereignty, and both American and Saudi officials have been reluctant to talk publicly in recent weeks about their disagreement over who ultimately would be in charge if war came. Even tonight, the senior Saudi diplomat denied that there had been any disagreement.
But the high-ranking American official said Baker and Fahd had given their blessing to an arrangement that would give Saudi Arabia preeminence in decisions about defending the kingdom, while giving American commanders full control over U.S. forces for any operations beyond Saudi borders.
"There will be certain ways of handling matters if the issue is one of the defense of the kingdom, and other ways of handling things if the issue should become one of actions, let's say, outside the kingdom," said the U.S. official, who spoke to reporters after the Baker meeting with Fahd on condition he not be named.
At the same time, the official said, any large decision to go to war would still have to be approved by "the highest political levels" of the two governments. The official said the resolution of command-and-control questions between the United States and Saudi Arabia does not bind the other nations that have contributed to the multinational force and that further talks would have to be held with those countries.
Baker's meeting with Fahd tonight came at a critical juncture in the allied effort to drive Saddam from Kuwait. Officials said Baker wanted to get a first-hand account of how the Saudis would view armed conflict to liberate Kuwait, and Baker was joined in meetings earlier today with Saudi officials by Schwarzkopf.
Other senior State Department, Pentagon and White House officials involved with the crisis gathered here as well for meetings that also focused on other tactics to tighten the screws on Saddam, including new U.N. Security Council resolutions.
A Saudi official noted that so far, the formal mission of the 300,000-member multinational force remains to defend Saudi Arabia and that Bush and Fahd have not yet decided whether to declare it formally an offensive fighting force.
Officials did not explain how the new agreements would translate into specific guidelines for such problems as joint training excercises or military operations. But the American official said that "the authority for planning and approving" operations outside Saudi borders "will rest in a U.S. command."
The official said Baker and Fahd had discussed sending additional U.S. troops to the kingdom. The official said the Saudis have set no limit on the size of the American deployment, now at 200,000 troops. Secretary of Defense Richard B. Cheney recently suggested the Bush administration might send another 100,000 to join Operation Desert Shield.
In meetings today, Saudi officials vowed anew not to accept "partial solutions" to Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, such as a deal giving Saddam rights or ownership of some piece of Kuwait, according to the U.S. official. The pledge follows a suggestion made recently by the Saudi defense minister that such a land swap might be a satisfactory way out of the crisis -- a remark that infuriated some U.S. policy-makers in Washington.
Baker was expected to talk with Fahd about how long the anti-Iraq coalition could wait for the economic and political isolation of Saddam to have some effect. Bush has recently expressed impatience, saying he was fed up with mistreatment of American hostages in Iraq. But tonight the official said, "I think there is a general agreement that sanctions should be given time to work." The official said Baker is sounding out the alliance partners on how long they will wait.
Baker also held talks today with Saudis and the exiled ruler of Kuwait about possibly extending economic aid to front-line states -- Turkey and Egypt -- into next year if necessary. This was seen as another indication that some U.S. policy-makers believe the crisis may not be resolved by the end of this year.