Secretary of State James A. Baker III said yesterday that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein threatens the "economic lifeline" of the West and the massive military deployment on the Arabian peninsula is justified to protect American jobs.

After a meeting with Canadian External Affairs Minister Joe Clark in Bermuda, Baker said "the economic lifeline of the world runs from the gulf and we cannot permit a dictator such as this to sit astride that economic lifeline.

"And to bring it down to the average American citizen, let me say that means jobs. If you want to sum it up in one word, it's jobs. Because an economic recession worldwide, caused by the control of one nation, one dictator if you will, of the West's economic lifeline will result in the loss of jobs on the part of American citizens," he added.

Baker's remarks reflected a fresh effort by the Bush administration to cast the stakes in the Persian Gulf crisis in terms that Americans can understand. Facing multiple global constituencies, President Bush and Baker have sent conflicting messages to different groups about the U.S. force buildup in the wake of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait Aug. 2. Now, as Congress is raising new questions about military deployments, and polls show increasing public skepticism about U.S. involvement, officials are trying to clarify the administration's goals and the stakes.

Early in the crisis, Bush said the U.S. troop deployments were necessary to prevent Saddam from gaining control of the world's oil supply, driving up the price of oil and throwing the global economy into recession. But then the administration shifted emphasis and, for several months, tried to avoid citing concern about oil supplies in justifying Operation Desert Shield, as the American deployment is called. Instead, administration officials have cited the principle of opposing unprovoked aggression -- which Baker reiterated yesterday -- and thwarting the rise of belligerent regional powers as Cold War tensions wane.

U.S. oil imports from Iraq and Kuwait were a relatively small share of the total. In the first half of this year, oil from Iraq and Kuwait amounted to only 9 percent of total U.S. oil imports.

However, officials have said that by becoming a powerful military and political force in the Persian Gulf, Saddam, if left unchecked, could strongly influence oil price decisions by Saudi Arabia as well. The United States drew 16.9 percent of its oil imports from Saudi Arabia in the first half of this


Thus, administration officials have argued, Saddam could effectively control the pricing of a quarter of U.S. oil imports, and an even larger share of the Mideast oil imported by Japan and Europe. If he forced up oil prices, as he was threatening to do before the invasion, he could prompt inflation and recession in Western economies, according to administration officials and outside analysts. The U.S. economy was already slowing at the time of the invasion.

After the meeting yesterday, Clark said that Canada, which holds a seat on the Security Council through Dec. 31, "would be strongly inclined" to support a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq. Clark said he could not predict what form such a resolution might take but said Canada believed any military action should be carried out "under the aegis of the United Nations."

Baker has been asking members of the Security Council about what kind of U.N. action against Saddam they are prepared to support. The United States serves as president of the council this month and is expected to use that position to push for a new resolution pressuring Saddam to leave Kuwait.