WASHINGTON -- The United Nations Security Council held Iraq liable for damages from the invasion of Kuwait and its destructive aftermath yesterday while threatening "further measures" unless it released hostages and halted its mistreatment of foreigners and diplomats.
In its own warning, the United States said it would "do that which is necessary" to protect its citizens. President Bush, campaigning in California, said he would "have no hesitancy at all" to use military force in response to a provocation.
And, in a speech describing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein as seeming "hell-bent on a revival of hot war," Secretary of State James A. Baker III gave a grim picture of the plight of more than 100 Americans being used as human shields at strategic locations in Iraq.
"These Americans are forced to sleep on vermin-ridden concrete floors," he told the Los Angeles World Affairs Council. "They are kept in the dark during the day and moved only at night. They have had their meals cut to two a day. And many are becoming sick as they endure a terrible ordeal."
Both the heightened U.S. rhetoric and the U.S.-driven Security Council resolution are part of a stepped-up Bush administration effort in recent days to highlight the human cost of Iraq's continued occupation of Kuwait.
By doing so, the administration seemed to be trying to prepare the U.S. public for possible war while laying additional groundwork at the United Nations to justify military action.
In a related development, Mr. Baker prepared to leave late this week to consult with U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf and in Europe and demonstrate a still-solid international determination to force Iraq from Kuwait.
The Security Council's 13-0 vote, with Cuba and Yemen abstaining, coincided with a meeting yesterday of senior military officers from the five permanent Security Council members, raising the prospect of future U.N.-sanctioned military action.
Resolution 674, the 10th condemning Iraq, demanded that Iraq halt its hostage-taking and stop mistreating Kuwaitis and foreigners. It invited countries to collate information both about the treatment of their citizens and about financial claims for damages to countries, citizens and corporations resulting from the Aug. 2 invasion.
It also demanded that Iraq allow foreign governments to send supplies to their diplomats in occupied Kuwait City. The United tTC States and Britain are the only Western nations with embassies operating in Kuwait.
This provision was pressed by the United States in particular. Officials said it was part of an effort to exhaust all available routes to retain contact with the hundreds of Americans still trapped in Kuwait.
If the United States is compelled to withdraw Ambassador W. Nathaniel Howell and his skeleton staff, official contact with the Americans in Kuwait could be cut off entirely.
The Bush administration has been reluctant to make the possible shutdown of its embassy in Kuwait a "line in the sand."
Mr. Baker reiterated yesterday that the United States could not have its policy held "hostage" to Iraq's actions.
But the United States aimed to leave Iraq in no doubt about its determination to protect Americans.
"I want to underscore one point very clearly," Thomas Pickering, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the Security Council vote. "Every nation has a duty to protect its citizens. This is a fundamental obligation. The United States will do that which is necessary to meet its obligation to its own citizens."
President Bush, speaking at an airport news conference in San Francisco, said, "History is replete with examples where the president has had to take action. And I've done this in the past, and certainly -- somebody mentioned provocation -- would have no hesitancy at all."
Mr. Baker warned that the latest U.N. resolution "strengthens the case for whatever further actions prove necessary to reverse Iraq's aggression."
Repeating that "all options" were being considered, he said, "And let no one doubt: We will not rule out a possible use of force if Iraq continues to occupy Kuwait."
Mr. Baker said, "Today, the Middle East is at a crossroads. One road leads to peace and, frankly, the other leads to war."
Mr. Baker also said he wanted to visit Israel -- but probably not on this week's trip.
"I cannot tell you it will be in conjunction with a trip that is designed to deal with the crisis in the gulf because we are very anxious that there not be a linkage . . . between these two matters," he said.