President Bush today condemned Iraq's President Saddam Hussein for his invasion of Kuwait, but he also offered an opening to Baghdad, suggesting that an Iraqi withdrawal could lead to settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Also today, Iraq ordered the release of nine French nationals in its second conciliatory gesture in as many days. And in Israel, the army said it will give out gas masks to every Israeli to protect them in the event of a war.
Yesterday, Saddam Hussein urged an international dialogue and mentioned France as a possible partner. U.S., French and British officials rejected the offer, saying they wouldn't talk until Iraq withdraws from Kuwait.
The nations allied against Iraq, meanwhile, were laying the groundwork for possible military action.
U.S. and Soviet officials were reported yesterday to be drafting new U.N. resolutions that would authorize the use of force against Iraq if the U.N.-ordered economic blockade fails to force Saddam out of Kuwait.
In his address to the U.N. General Assembly today, Bush mixed harsh language against Saddam with an overture for a resolution of the 2-month-old Persian Gulf crisis.
"Iraq's unprovoked aggression is a throwback to another era, a dark relic from a dark time," Bush said in his prepared remarks. But he added: "We seek a peaceful outcome, a diplomatic outcome."
"In the aftermath of Iraq's unconditional departure from Kuwait, I truly believe that there may be opportunities," he said. "For Iraq and Kuwait to settle their differences permanently; for the states of the gulf themselves to build new arrangements for stability; and for all the states and peoples of the region to settle the conflict that divides the Arabs from Israel."
In past speeches, Saddam has linked an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait to an Israeli pullout from the occupied territories and a Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon. He repeated those conditions yesterday.
In other developments, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Saud Faisal, met in New York to discuss resuming diplomatic relations and ending a 2 1/2 -year rift, Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency said today.
The agency, monitored in Cyprus, said in a dispatch from New York that the meeting took place yesterday at U.N. headquarters.
It was the first time senior officials from the two countries have met since the Saudis broke off ties in April 1988, citing terrorism and subversion. It was the most positive sign yet that they may be moving toward rapprochement.
Thousands of French troops joined the U.S.-led multinational force in Saudi Arabia yesterday, and U.S. and British warships in the Persian Gulf stopped and searched an Indian ship carrying refugees from Kuwait. The refugee ship was not found to be in violation of the U.N. embargo.
European and Israeli military analysts said the likelihood of war has grown significantly as sanctions and a hostile world corner Saddam without a diplomatic escape.
"I think another six to eight weeks is available to prevent a conflict, but after that it becomes almost inevitable," said Paul Beaver, publisher of the respected Jane's Defense Weekly, in an interview in London.
Such reports prompted the Israeli army to announce today that it will begin distributing gas masks to Israel's 4.7 million citizens next week.
The announcement follows threats by Saddam to attack Israel, including one in which he said he would burn half the Jewish state with chemical weapons.