With diplomacy apparently stalled in the Persian Gulf, the State Department yesterday ordered more than 200 U.S. dependents and nonessential personnel to leave Jordan and Sudan "well before Jan. 15," the U.N. deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
The department's advisory, citing "unstable conditions" growing out of the U.S.-led confrontation with Iraq, also urged thousands of private U.S. citizens to leave the two nations "as soon as possible." Yesterday's warnings upgraded advisories issued in August and November authorizing voluntary departure of U.S. government dependents from Jordan and Sudan.
The earlier advisories also ordered departure of dependents and nonessential personnel from the U.S. Embassy in Yemen, and authorized voluntary departure for dependents in Mauritania, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia.
Administration officials, meanwhile, denied a report in the Israeli newspaper, Maariv, that Washington and Baghdad had agreed on a Jan. 9 meeting of Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
A senior State Department official said no progress had been made on setting a date for talks. Baker appeared to have removed one obstacle to such a meeting late last week, suggesting for the first time that his trip to Iraq need not be preceded by a meeting in Washington with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. Although President Bush originally proposed only that the talks take place before the U.N. deadline on Jan. 15, he later insisted they take place by Jan. 3. Baghdad has proposed only Jan. 12, which Bush said is too late to permit withdrawal from Kuwait by the deadline.
At a briefing in Riyadh yesterday, Maj. Gen. J. Dane Starling, logistics chief for U.S. forces in the gulf, said it is still logistically possible for the about 500,000 Iraqi troops in Kuwait to withdraw by Jan. 15, "if Saddam Hussein set his mind to it." He did not say how long the withdrawal would take.
In Baghdad, U.S. Charge D'Affaires Joseph Wilson told reporters, "I have not given up on the diplomatic process."
But Saddam, speaking to his envoys in Baghdad, continued to link Kuwait's future to the "liberation of Palestine," Reuter reported. "Iraq's linkage between the region's issues, with priority to the Palestinian question. . . is a correct patriotic, nationalist and humanitarian policy," he said.
The United States has rejected repeated Iraqi insistence that its occupation of Kuwait be negotiated in the context of the larger Arab-Israeli dispute.
The Iraqi leader also reiterated his claim that British colonial authorities unjustly removed Kuwait from Iraq's control. He challenged Western powers massing in the gulf to put Kuwait's future to a referendum of "the Arab people."
Air Force Lt. Col. Tom Coury, an intelligence officer assigned to the U.S. Central Command, told reporters at the Riyadh briefing that Saddam's actions match his rhetoric and he appears to plan "to remain in Kuwait for the long haul." Construction of Iraqi defenses there, including trenches, mine fields, concertina wire, barriers and infantry fighting positions, "continues unabated," Coury said.
"One of the things you look at as an intelligence officer is how a man is spending his resources," Coury said. "You're looking at an economy that's embargoed right now and this man is spending tremendous resources to build defenses in Kuwait and on his western flank. And that suggests that he has all intentions of remaining there."
Coury also appeared to suggest that U.S. ground forces might not stop at Kuwait in event of a war. Asked the assess the fighting quality of Saddam's forces, he said he could not predict how the Iraqis "would react under combat, under an invasion of their home country."
Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney promised U.S. troops in visits last week that there would be "no sanctuaries" for the enemy if it came to a fight, but no U.S. official has spoken publicly of an "invasion" of Iraq.
Yesterday's travel advisories for Sudan and Jordan, according to State Department spokeswoman Sondra McCarty, came after heightened tensions in the gulf confrontation created "the continuing possibility of anti-American incidents" in the two countries. Administration officials would not say whether they had intelligence suggesting an imminent threat to U.S. lives or property.
Anti-American and pro-Saddam demonstrations were held in Jordan in August and September, and the Jordanian government has sided at times with Baghdad during the crisis. Sudan's Moslem fundamentalist government has also supported the Iraqi leader, and Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, has been the site of anti-American violence in the past.
The State Department estimates that 200 to 250 private U.S. citizens live in Sudan, most relief workers or missionaries. There are about 70 U.S. government employees and 50 dependents there.
In Jordan, according to State Department figures, about 6,000 U.S. private citizens are there, many of them spouses and children of Jordanian nationals. There are 165 U.S. government employees there.
Each embassy decides which personnel are nonessential for purposes of evacuation.
Staff writers David Hoffman in Washington and Guy Gugliotta in Saudi Arabia contributed to this report.