In the election-year debate over U.S. foreign policy, the Bush administration's statements to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in the weeks before the Aug. 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait have become particularly controversial.

Democratic vice presidential candidate Albert Gore Jr. charged last Thursday, for example, that President Bush had sent an "obsequious" personal message to Saddam just five days before Iraq's invasion. Gore depicted the message, which he said the administration had improperly kept secret, as one of many Bush actions that "caused Saddam to miscalculate and decide that he could invade the neighboring nation of Kuwait with impunity."

Gore challenged the president to disclose the text of his message "so the American people can make a full and fair judgment about the character and judgment of George Bush." The State Department declined yesterday to release a copy of the letter, however, on grounds that all communications between heads of state must remain classified.

Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot separately charged during the televised debate Monday that on the eve of Iraq's invasion, the administration had instructed its ambassador to Baghdad to tell Saddam "in effect" that he could "take the northern part of Kuwait." Perot said his claim was based in part on an Iraqi transcript of the well-known meeting between the ambassador, April C. Glaspie, and Saddam on July 25, 1990.

Perot challenged Bush to make public what Perot called these secret instructions to Glaspie, which he said had been withheld from Senate investigators and were being guarded "like the secrets of the atomic bomb."

Bush heatedly denied the substance of Perot's charge, and yesterday State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters the administration had already declassified the only two cables on the issue sent to Glaspie before her meeting with Saddam. Boucher said acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger had asked him to state categorically that "the United States has never ... told or in any way indicated to Saddam Hussein that Iraq could take the northern part of Kuwait."

Nothing in these documents contradicts Eagleburger's account of U.S. discussions with Saddam. In the first hours after the invasion, senior U.S. officials did believe that Iraq would probably halt its forces after occupying the Ramalah oil fields in northern Kuwait. But there is no indication that the United States expressed any approval for such action.

Here are relevant portions from each of the documents recently cited in the campaign. They were obtained by The Washington Post from a government source.

These are excerpts from the first State Department cable containing instructions for U.S. Ambassador April C. Glaspie's meetings with Iraqi officials after the crisis erupted. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said yesterday that Glaspie delivered the message to Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Nizar Hamdoon on the day it was received. It was officially declassified on July 18, 1992.

{Cable dated July 19, 1990}

FM SECSTATE {James A. Baker III} WASHDC

TO AMEMBASSY {American Embassy} AMMAN IMMEDIATE

CONFIDENTIAL STATE

SUBJECT: IRAQI LETTER TO ARAB LEAGUE THREATENING KUWAIT

1. During a previously scheduled July 18 working lunch with Iraqi Ambassador Al-Mashat, NEA DAS {Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs} David Mack raised Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz's July 16 letter to Arab League Secretary General Chedli Klibi regarding Iraqi grievances against Kuwait. Mack used the following talking points in outlining U.S. concerns:

Begin text:

...

-- The tone of the letter and the implied threat to use force against Kuwait run counter to Iraq's stated policy of seeking to foster Arab unity and peace in the gulf. A central principle of international relations is that disputes should be settled by peaceful means, not through intimidation and threats of the use of force.

-- The United States takes no position on the substance of the bilateral issues concerning Iraq and Kuwait. However, I take this opportunity to reiterate that U.S. policy is unchanged: We remain committed to ensure the free flow of oil from the gulf and to support the sovereignty and integrity of the gulf states....

2. Mack also gave Mashat a copy of the State Department press guidance prepared in response to the Iraqi letter... :

-- I do not have any specific reaction to these statements....

-- We remain determined to ensure the free flow of oil.... We also remain strongly committed to supporting the individual and collective self-defense of our friends in the gulf with whom we have deep and longstanding ties....

4. Embassy Baghdad should draw on the points in paragraphs 1 and 2 in outlining the U.S. position and in pressing the GOI {government of Iraq} for clarification.... {signed} Baker.

This is the entire second State Department cable to Glaspie about the crisis, and according to Boucher, it is the last one sent to Glaspie before her meeting with Saddam on July 25. Glaspie conveyed its substance to Hamdoon by telephone on the evening of July 24 and in person the morning of July 25, Boucher said. It was officially declassified on Oct. 17, 1991.

{Cable dated July 24, 1990}

FM SECSTATE WASHDC

TO EC COLLECTIVE IMMEDIATE IMMEDIATE

SUBJECT: U.S. REACTION TO IRAQI THREATS IN THE GULF

1. Secret -- entire text.

2. Action addressee posts should take opportunity of briefing host-country governments at appropriate level on U.S. views and actions following recent Iraqi statements and threats against its gulf neighbors. In doing so, they should provide the text of the following {State} Department statement of July 18:

"We remain determined to ensure the free flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz and to defend the principle of freedom of navigation. We also remain strongly committed to supporting the individual and collective self-defense of our friends in the gulf with whom we have deep and longstanding ties."

3. You should also draw on the following points:

-- The U.S. is concerned about the hostile implications of recent Iraqi statements directed against Iraq's neighbors, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates. While we take no position on the border delineation issue raised by Iraq with respect to Kuwait, or on other bilateral disputes, Iraqi statements suggest an intention to resolve outstanding disagreements by the use of force, an approach which is contrary to U.N. charter principles. The implications of having oil production and pricing policy in the gulf determined and enforced by Iraqi guns are disturbing.

-- We stated some of these views clearly on July 18. We have reinforced them in discussions with the Iraqi ambassador in Washington and with the GOI through our ambassador in Baghdad. Our embassies in Arab League capitals have been instructed to make our policies known to host country officials.

4. Please report reactions as appropriate. {signed} Baker

These are excerpts of the official Iraqi transcript of Glaspie's unplanned meeting with Saddam on July 25, two hours after her meeting with Hamdoon. It was released by the Iraqis in September 1990.

Glaspie: "I have a direct instruction from the president to seek better relations with Iraq."

Hussein: "But how? We too have this desire. But matters are running contrary to this desire...."

Glaspie: "I know you need funds. We understand that and our opinion is that you should have the opportunity to rebuild your country. But we have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.... I received an instruction to ask you -- in the spirit of friendship, not in the spirit of confrontation -- regarding your intentions...."

Hussein: "{We give} our word that we are not going to do anything until we meet with them {the Kuwaitis}. When we meet and when we see that there is hope, then nothing will happen. But if we are unable to find a solution, then it will be natural that Iraq will not accept death."

These are excerpts from a cable by Glaspie to Baker, reporting on her July 25 meeting with Saddam. It has not been declassified, on grounds that all accounts of meetings with heads of state are privileged communication.

{Cable dated July 25, 1990}

FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD

TO SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE

SUBJECT: SADDAM'S MESSAGE OF FRIENDSHIP TO PRESIDENT BUSH

1. Secret -- entire text.

2. ... Ambassador made clear that we can never excuse settlement of disputes by other than peaceful means....

21. The ambassador thanked Saddam for the opportunity to discuss directly with him some of his and our concerns. President Bush, too, wants friendship, as he had written ... on the occasion of Iraq's national day. Saddam interrupted to say he had been touched by those messages.

22. Ambassador resumed her theme, recalling that the president had instructed her to broaden and deepen our relations with Iraq. Saddam had referred to "some circles" antipathetic to that aim. Such circles certainly existed, but the U.S. administration is instructed by the president....

23. What is important is that the president has very recently reaffirmed his desire for a better relationship and has proven that by, for example, opposing sanctions bills....

30. Note: On the border question, Saddam referred to the 1961 agreement and a "line of patrol" it had established. The Kuwaitis, he said, had told {Egyptian President Hosni} Mubarak Iraq was 20 kilometers "in front" of this line. The ambassador said that she had served in Kuwait 20 years before; then, as now, we took no position on these Arab affairs....

32. ... His response in effect that he tried various diplomatic channels before resorting to unadulterated intimidation has at least the virtue of frankness. His emphasis that he wants peaceful settlement is surely sincere (Iraqis are sick of war), but the terms sound difficult to achieve. Saddam seems to want pledges now on oil prices and production to cover the next several months. {signed} Glaspie

This is the entire text of Bush's reply to Saddam after Glaspie's meeting. It has not been declassified.

{Cable dated July 28, 1990}

FM SECSTATE WASHDC

TO AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD IMMEDIATE

SECRET STATE

SUBJECT: PRESIDENT BUSH'S RESPONSE TO SADDAM HUSSEIN'S MESSAGE

1. Secret -- entire text.

2. Please deliver the following as an oral response from President Bush to Saddam Hussein's message in reftel B {Glaspie's cable summarizing her July 25 meeting with Saddam}.

3. Begin text.

-- I was pleased to learn of the agreement between Iraq and Kuwait to begin negotiations in {the Saudi Arabian seaport} Jeddah to find a peaceful solution to the current tensions between you. The United States and Iraq both have a strong interest in preserving the peace and stability of the Middle East. For this reason, we believe that differences are best resolved by peaceful means and not by threats involving military force or conflict.

-- I also welcome your statement that Iraq desires friendship, rather than confrontation, with the United States. Let me reassure you, as my ambassador, Senator {Robert J.} Dole, and others have done, that my administration continues to desire better relations with Iraq. We will also continue to support our other friends in the region with whom we have had long-standing ties. We see no necessary inconsistency between these two objectives.

-- As you know, we still have fundamental concerns about certain Iraqi policies and activities. And we will continue to raise these concerns with you, in a spirit of friendship and candor, as we have in the past both to gain a better understanding of your interests and intentions and to ensure that you understand our concerns. I completely agree that both our governments must maintain open channels of communication to avoid misunderstandings and in order to build a more durable foundation for improving our relations.

End text.

4. Ambassador should indicate this is in the nature of an interim reply, and that she hopes to be able to respond more fully to the concerns raised by Saddam on her return to Baghdad. Ambassador may furnish the points to the Iraqis as a non-paper if this is the only way they can be delivered before her departure on July 30. {signed} Eagleburger.