ADDRESSING the world's political leaders at the United Nations on Monday, President Bush sketchily but unmistakably outlined a sensible diplomatic solution for the Persian Gulf crisis.
His words provide a basis for talks, if Saddam Hussein has the sense to respond before it's too late.
Bush's initiative supplies a needed third component to the global strategy for reversing Iraqi aggression.
To the pressure provided by economic sanctions and the military buildup, the president adds fair terms for a durable peace.
Bush spoke in a diplomatic code that might elude most listeners. He spoke of "opportunities" that could arise "in the aftermath of Iraq's unconditional departure from Kuwait."
He then listed three main opportunities.
First, he suggested that Iraq and Kuwait could "settle their differences permanently."
Decoded, this means resolving longstanding disputes involving the control of oil fields that straddle the present border and jurisdiction over strategic islands in the gulf.
It's not clear whether the phrase also extends to negotiations on the future government of Kuwait.
Second, he called on "the states of the gulf themselves to build new arrangements for stability."
Washington means three things by this: destroying chemical weapons and their means of production, curbing the spread of nuclear technology and negotiating the size and composition of military forces.
It's clear the U.S. would want to subject the first two to international inspection.
It's also clear, but unsaid, that Israeli chemical and nuclear-weapons capabilities would be included in such talks.
Third, "for all the states and peoples of the region to settle the conflict that divides the Arabs from Israel."
That means two things: ending the present state of war, with Arab states recognizing the state of Israel; and reaffirming the U.S. commitment to fostering direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
All three pieces fit together.
Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait cannot by itself restore stability to the gulf.
Stability requires limiting war-making capabilities in the region.
Israel will not even begin to consider limits on its forces or nuclear and chemical weapons capabilities unless it is in the context of a general Middle East peace settlement.
And Arabs would find it difficult to limit their own military forces without constraints on Israel.
With Saddam still to propose any serious settlement terms, Bush was wise not to spell out his own meanings.
But he has now revealed enough of his hand to put the burden of the next negotiating move clearly on Iraq.