In a surprise twist to the agonizing story of the occupation of Kuwait, Iraqi soldiers showed up at the door of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait yesterday with fruit, cucumbers and cigarettes.
President Bush, describing "a very interesting report," said at a news conference in Washington later that "there's going to be another delivery tomorrow including soda pop. And they asked what medical supplies were required." But, he added, "the electricity is still cut off."
Administration officials said they were somewhat puzzled by the gesture, and they pointed out that it seemed to be a token offer and not a signal of major changes in Kuwait, where Iraqi forces have been dismantling the country and rounding up foreigners.
One official said the Iraqi forces appeared to be repeating a pattern that President Saddam Hussein had set by selectively releasing hostages to European nations and Japan in an effort to buy time. "If you look at the hostages, it was an effort to keep from feeling the heat," the official said, "rather than a change of heart."
This official noted that Iraqi troops have continued to seize foreigners from their apartments in Kuwait and ship them to Baghdad.
The embassy staff -- which includes some American businessmen who were in Kuwait at the time of the invasion and have since been put on the U.S. government payroll to protect them -- have been struggling against Iraqi attempts to starve them out. Only the American and British embassies in Kuwait have remained open. The U.S. officials have had no electricity or running water and have used water from the swimming pool. Recently they successfully dug a well on the embassy grounds and, using the water, washed their cars to make a point to the Iraqis that they were not giving up.
According to a list provided to officials in Washington, the Iraqis showed up yesterday with 85 apples, 45 tangerines, 80 oranges, 155 small cucumbers and a case of cigarettes. Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell had earlier told State Department officials that his staff members were surviving on cans of tuna fish and rice they had stockpiled.
Bush expressed agitation again yesterday about the treatment of the embassy. "Consider me provoked when it comes to the United States Embassy. Consider me provoked when I see Americans without proper food and medical equipment," he said.
The United States has held talks with United Nations Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar about a resupply mission for the Kuwait Embassy, and Secretary of State James A. Baker III discussed it with former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in London recently.
Officials said they had hoped that the United Nations or another agency could arrange a resupply effort with the permission of Iraq, but so far that has not proved feasible. Senior U.S. officials said they were not contemplating a military effort to resupply the mission that might spark an armed conflict with Iraq, however.
Bush said he would not disclose his plans for the embassy. "I will not say exactly what I will do or exactly what I won't do," he said. Asked if he saw the deliveries as a sign that Iraq wants to eliminate the embassy as a potential tripwire, Bush said, "I don't know." He added, "Let's try to be optimistic and say this could be a positive sign. But it's so far short of compliance with international law, that I can't be rejoicing. But it is a very interesting development."