ALCONBURY, ENGLAND, JAN. 13 -- With time running out before Tuesday's deadline for Iraq to pull out of Kuwait, Secretary of State James A. Baker III indicated today that he will tell President Bush the allied forces on the Arabian Peninsula are prepared to fight if necessary.
"It seems to me that the international coalition is well prepared politically, economically and militarily for any eventuality as we move toward midnight Jan. 15," Baker said as he flew here for talks with British Prime Minister John Major after a week-long tour of allied nations.
A senior administration official told reporters that none of the nations with troops on the ground in Saudi Arabia has refused to follow Bush's lead if he decides to go to war.
"To my knowledge, no one has balked," the official said. Even France, which has pressed for a diplomatic settlement, "will fight if that's what it comes to," he added. "With respect to France, the deadline is real. France and other countries will want to do everything they can in order to try and achieve a political solution before midnight Jan. 15. But if the balloon goes up, the French will be there."
There were signs, nevertheless, that at least one of the allied nations that have committed forces -- Syria -- is not prepared to go on the offensive against Iraq, and officials noted that some of the allies have not yet authorized use of naval and air units for combat.
Baker met with Turkish President Turgut Ozal today, but refused to comment afterward. The senior official noted, however, that the United States recently has taken actions to enhance Turkey's military capability and to offset financial hardships caused by the Persian Gulf crisis. In addition, warplanes from Germany, Belgium and Italy recently were deployed to Turkey under auspices of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance. Diplomatic sources in Ankara, the Turkish capital, said Ozal could not commit troops to the multinational force because of political opposition in Turkey, and they added that his earlier suggestion that Turkey might send ships to the gulf has been put on a back burner.
However, the sources noted that Baker had been expected to discuss with Turkish officials possible use of the large Turkish-U.S. air base at Incirlik for logistical support in the event of war. Ozal convened a cabinet meeting Saturday night, and his government reportedly was prepared to offer permission to the United States to use the base for support -- possibly including repairing, refueling and rearming warplanes -- but not for launching combat missions.
An official statement read by government spokesman Mehmet Yazar after the four-hour cabinet meeting said, "We will give humanitarian and limited logistical support." He added, "Nothing other than this."
Kaya Toperi, Ozal's spokesman, said Baker gave Ozal a letter from Bush expressing appreciation for Turkey's support. Ozal thanked Baker for economic and military aid, the Turkish spokesman said, but he added that Ozal "emphasized that Turkey is expecting a further increase of the textile quotas."
The Bush administration approved a major increase in Turkish exports of textiles and clothing to the United States last November in what was described by administration sources as a reward for Ankara's support in the gulf crisis. Ozal considers this increase a "first step," the spokesman said. Ozal also asked Baker to consider a Turkish-American free-trade agreement, he added.
Turkey would like to have "non-active participation" with the coalition if the gulf crisis comes to war, diplomatic sources said. One stipulation, they added, may be that Incirlik not be used immediately, but only if a conflict drags on for some time.
Baker's week-long tour took him to Geneva for unsuccessful talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. He also visited France, Germany, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and he is to meet with officials in Canada Monday.
In his talks with allied leaders, Baker discussed the timing and nature of possible military action against Iraq if President Saddam Hussein refuses to pull out by the United Nations deadline. While most of the allies indicated a willingness to fight, although there were differences over timing.
Noting that some countries have not given a green light for naval and air combat, the senior administration official said: "Some countries have small naval or air assets in the gulf that were originally committed to defend Saudi Arabia or enforce the embargo. Some of these countries have not taken executive or legislative action to change to an offensive role. They have not been asked to. Some will anyway."
Baker also confronted one of the most sensitive problems stemming from any decision to wage war against Saddam -- the Iraqi threat to attack Israel and draw the Jewish state into a wider war. Baker discussed the issue with each of the Arab allies, and he appears to have left the talks with the understanding that Israel will continue to try to maintain a low profile but that it reserves the right to defend itself if attacked. Nonetheless, U.S. officials remain worried, and Baker has suggested that the United States would step in to defend its ally rather than let a war spread throughout the region. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger spent the weekend in Israel consulting with officials on the possibility of war.
The U.S. assessment of Syria's willingness to fight has changed to some extent in recent months, the senior official acknowledged. Last autumn, the official predicted that Syrian President Hafez Assad would be one of the first to go to war against his longtime foe, Saddam.
"The Syrians jumped in very early and very vigorously, and they did so at a time when an Arab brother was invading and brutalizing an Arab brother for the first time in history," the official said. "Since that time, there have been serious efforts, substantial efforts, by the Iraqis, of course, to wrap their aggression in the flag of Palestinian liberation. That note rings very loud in Syria."
Syria, the official noted, is "at war with Israel. So I think there is a greater impact in Syria than in any other country. It is not my view today that the Syrians would lead the charge. I think that change in posture and attitude came about over a period of three to four months."
The official said that although Assad did not refuse to commit his troops in his meeting with Baker Saturday, Syria probably would not join any offensive action. "We do know Syria is not balking at using its forces defensively -- and that means, of course, that other forces would be freed up from that role that do not have to be there."
Except for Syria's hesitation, "no other nation has balked" at following Bush's lead on the timing of an attack, the official said. Troops from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France and Britain along with smaller contingents from gulf states are expected to join American forces in any military operation to liberate Kuwait.
Correspondent Jonathan C. Randal in Ankara contributed to this report.