UNITED NATIONS -- President Bush held out the prospect yesterday that Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait could ultimately lead to a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
"In the aftermath of Iraq's unconditional departure from Kuwait, I truly believe there may be opportunities," Mr. Bush told the U.N. General Assembly.
He said those opportunities included the chances for Iraq and Kuwait to settle their differences permanently, for the gulf states to build new security arrangements and "for all the states and the peoples of the region to settle conflicts that divided them from Israel."
The president later went out of his way to tell reporters he wasn't signaling any change in the U.S. insistence that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein must withdraw his forces
from Kuwait without any preconditions.
"There's no flexibility here," Mr. Bush said. "Iraq should unilaterally and unconditionally withdraw."
But even as he and his allies were preparing for the possibility that the United Nations may endorse a military strike against Iraq, the president underscored the message that Mr. Hussein's grievances against Kuwait and Israel might be addressed through diplomatic means.
"I want to see a peaceful resolution if at all possible," Mr. Bush said, when asked whether he had sufficient support in the United Nations for a military strike. "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it."
The Bush administration has been saying privately for some time that it would be willing to press Kuwaiti leaders to address Iraq's concerns once the invading forces are withdrawn.
U.S. officials have taken pains, however, to keep the gulf crisis separate from the decades-old struggle between Israel and its Arab neighbors that recently has focused on the fate of displaced Palestinians.
They dismissed out of hand a suggestion Mr. Hussein made not long after his Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait that the withdrawal of his forces be linked to the withdrawal of Israel from territories occupied since the 1967 war.
Israel has been keeping an unusually low profile on the crisis, except to seek additional U.S. military support in case of an Iraqi attack.
The White House announced yesterday that Mr. Bush will invoke his emergency authority to send Israel two batteries of Patriot anti-missile missiles, worth about $117 million, to defend against the threat of Iraqi ballistic missiles.
The commitment fell short of the additional $1 billion in emergency aid Israel requested in the wake of the Iraqi invasion and did not address the Israeli request that the annual military grant be increased from $1.8 billion to $2.5 billion.
As the 2-month-old crisis drags on, however, Mr. Bush has spoken increasingly of a "new world order" arising not only from the ashes of the Cold War but from the new global cooperation formed to resist the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait.
U.S. officials have been frustrated by the failure of their efforts to draw Israel and its adversaries into a promising peace negotiation, and Secretary of State James A. Baker III has indicated that U.S. patience with Israeli intransigence on peace talks is wearing thin.
"But the world's key task -- now, first and always -- must be to demonstrate that aggression will not be tolerated or rewarded," Mr. Bush told the United Nations.
Reiterating his insistence that Iraq's "annexation of Kuwait will not be permitted to stand," he drew a strong burst of applause from the U.N. delegates, who rarely accord such displays to U.S. leaders. The representatives from Iraq did not leave the hall.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who had earlier suggested that solutions to the gulf crisis and the Arab-Israeli conflict be discussed at the same international conference, praised Mr. Bush's approach yesterday.
The president also received domestic support in Washington yesterday as the House voted 380-29 to back the steps he already has taken.
But Representative Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., chairman of the Foreign Affairs Middle East subcommittee, said, "This resolution most assuredly does not represent a blank check. It does not support future actions except those actions that continue present policy."