Twelve years after his army rolled into neighboring Kuwait, sparking the Persian Gulf War, President Saddam Hussein apologized to the Kuwaiti people tonight in a statement aimed at shoring up public opinion in the Arab world in the event of a U.S. military attack on his nation.

"We apologize to God for any action in the past . . . that was considered to be our responsibility, and we apologize to you on the same basis," Hussein said in the statement, read by his information minister.

But he failed to make much of a peace offering to Kuwait's leaders, who have permitted about 10,000 U.S. troops to be stationed in their tiny nation between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Hussein accused Kuwaiti officials of working with foreigners to attack Iraq and suggested that the Kuwaiti people take a more active role in opposing the presence of U.S. troops.

"As you can see, the foreigners are occupying your country in a direct occupation," he said. "And, as you know, when the foreigners occupy a country, they don't only desecrate the soil, but also the soul, religion and mind."

Hussein also lashed out at the Kuwaiti government for allowing U.S. and British warplanes that patrol a "no-fly" zone over southern Iraq to be based in Kuwait.

Kuwaiti officials rejected the apology, with Information Minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahd al-Sabah saying, "The speech contained incitement and encouragement of terrorist acts."