WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III will sound out America's partners in the anti-Iraq coalition next week how long they're willing to wait for economic sanctions and the mere threat of war to force Iraq out of Kuwait, an administration official said yesterday.
He will also explore "all the options," including military force, and additional political and economic pressure, the official said.
The consultations come at a crucial point in the Persian Gulf crisis, with the latest failure of a Soviet envoy to elicit from Saddam Hussein any willingness to yield, mounting reports of brutality toward foreign hostages in Iraq, particularly Americans, and a new infusion of thousands of troops from the United States, Egypt and Syria into Saudi Arabia.
The State Department revised to 110 yesterday the number of Americans presumed to be held as "human shields" at strategic Iraqi sites.
"We understand that conditions are appalling in some detention facilities," spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said, with some hostages "surrounded by filth and poorly fed."
While President Bush said yesterday that he was willing to give peaceful forms of pressure more time, U.S. intelligence has concluded, in CIA chief William H. Webster's words, that Mr. Hussein will sit tight unless he is "threatened with imminent peril."
Some Arab diplomats have already given up on the utility of economic sanctions, arguing that only the near-certainty of war will force Mr. Hussein to begin withdrawing.
Mr. Baker leaves Saturday for Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Britain and France, followed by a meeting with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze in Geneva.
"The purpose of the trip is to continue to consult with our coalition partners on our ongoing efforts to isolate Saddam Hussein politically, economically and militarily," the administration official said, adding that discussions would take in "the full range of issues that fall under those three headings."
These include following up on discussions Mr. Baker had at the United Nations in September on U.N.-authorized military action to enforce the Security Council's orders, which include complete Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and restoration of the al-Sabah ruling family.
Under the U.N. rotation procedure, U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering will preside over the Security Council in November, giving the United States an opportunity to draw international support for a series of new forms of pressure on Iraq.
The Bush administration has refused to put a public timetable on when to conclude that the sanctions aren't working and that force is the only answer.
Before doing so, the official said, "we would want to make certain we consulted closely" with U.S. allies. "Within the economic category you have the question . . . 'What do our coalition partners think is the appropriate length of time to give sanctions to work?' "
This is among a "host" of questions to which Mr. Baker will seek answers.
Soviet envoy Yevgeny M. Primakov delivered a firm message from all major countries in the anti-Iraq coalition last weekend that no partial withdrawal from Kuwait would be acceptable, the official said.
While he may have received some hint of flexibility in return, prompting Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev to suggest that Mr. Hussein was beginning to heed the will of the United Nations, there was no change in Iraq's refusal to withdraw from Kuwait, the official said.
The United States has sought, unsuccessfully so far, an elaboration of Mr. Gorbachev's proposal for an "inter-Arab" formula to resolve the crisis but at this point doesn't consider it a major shift in the Soviet position.
The United States has yet to use language as explicit as that oBritish Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who said last week that Iraq faced a simple choice: "retreat or defeat."
The reason, an official said yesterday, was that "we're in an area here where any little nuance is picked up on and it is magnified," but the U.S. message is essentially the same.