A caption yesterday misidentified Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United States, Bandar bin Sultan, as an interpreter. (Published 1/ 12/91)
RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA, JAN. 10 -- In the aftermath of his unsuccessful Geneva confrontation with Iraq, Secretary of State James A. Baker III turned his attention to holding together the international coalition and laying plans for a decision to fight, and senior U.S. officials said today that they expect the focus of diplomacy to shift to European and Arab nations.
In a meeting here tonight with Saudi King Fahd, Baker summoned Lt. Gen. Howard Graves, assistant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for a brief discussion with the king about possible military operations, State Department officials said.
Baker also met privately with Fahd about the political decisions that would have to be made if Iraq fails to meet the Jan. 15 deadline to pull out of Kuwait and the allies decide to go to war. Officials refused to provide details, but a senior Saudi official told Baker at a dinner of senior U.S. and Saudi officials tonight that Iraqi President "Saddam Hussein must bow to reality or enter the world of the unknown."
Earlier, Fahd pledged to Baker that Saudi Arabia would continue to offset some of the expense of Operation Desert Shield, the largest U.S. military buildup since Vietnam. Officials said Fahd did not commit to a specific amount, but Saudi and U.S. officials were planning to discuss details Friday. Saudi Arabia has picked up in-country costs such as for transportation, fuel and water, and officials said they expected this support to continue as the crisis drags on.
On the diplomatic front, "we've done what we can do," a senior U.S. official said of the lengthy but ultimately fruitless talks between Baker and Iraqi Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in Geneva on Wednesday. The official said U.S. policy-makers now expect Saddam to attempt to strike a last-minute deal with European or Arab allies that would forestall a military attack against him. Baker intends to devote the remainder of this week's trip to a continuing effort to discourage the allies from giving Saddam an opening.
"This coalition takes constant care and feeding," another senior U.S. official told reporters traveling with Baker today to Saudi Arabia for meetings here on the next steps in the gulf crisis. "There is a tremendous amount of diplomacy involved, there are questions that come up with respect to what happens in the event of alternative scenarios, what happens with respect to the commitment of forces under certain conditions, what happens vis-a-vis responsibility sharing."
Officials acknowledged that a last-minute deal engineered by others could be problematical for the United States.
The U.N. deadline of next Tuesday for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait "is real," the U.S. official told reporters. "At midnight the 15th is a very important time. We'll have to see what the situation is at that time, I can't speculate on that in advance. Suppose he is actively moving out? I can't answer those kinds of questions."
Baker, departing Geneva this morning, said he was "very pleased" that U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar is going to Baghdad in a new diplomatic effort.
"I believe that the path to peace is open," he said. State Department officials said they hoped Perez de Cuellar would stress the importance of abiding by the U.N. resolutions.
Meanwhile, State Department officials said the U.S. charge d'affaires in Baghdad, Joseph C. Wilson IV, would depart Iraq on Saturday along with four other American diplomats.
The officials said Wilson would bring the American flag out of the country with him and that there would not be an interests section established there. The United States is not breaking relations with Iraq in closing down the embassy, they said.
After the meeting with Aziz adjourned, officials said Baker telephoned Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze with a report on it. The senior State Department official who spoke to reporters said the Soviets are planning to send further messages to Saddam saying that time is running short.
Baker also expressed concern to Shevardnadze, who announced his resignation Dec. 20, about recent deployments of Soviet troops in seven republics, including the Baltics, officials said. Baker also discussed with Shevardnadze continuing U.S.-Soviet disagreements over weapons cuts in the conventional arms treaty, the pending START treaty and the planned February summit, they said.
The senior official was questioned about a statement by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that Israel should stay out of any gulf war.
In Geneva, Aziz had repeated Iraqi threats to attack Israel. The senior official said Baker had discussed the matter previously with Mubarak and that "it matters how" Israel gets into the conflict, implying that Israel should not attack but could defend itself if attacked.