DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III, blitzing the Mideast, reached an agreement yesterday with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia that if U.S. troops are sent into combat against Iraq they will be under U.S. command and heard a plea from the exiled ruler of Kuwait for the quickest possible action.
The issue of command and control, which could have been a problem for the multinational force, has been "resolved to the complete satisfaction of the Saudi government and the U.S. government," a senior U.S. official said in Jidda.
U.S. and Saudi forces would operate under a joint command in defense of the kingdom, officials said. But in case of military action beyond the borders of Saudi Arabia, U.S. troops would operate under U.S. commanders once the operation had been approved "at the highest political level" of both governments.
During an earlier meeting in Taif, Kuwait's exiled ruler urged the United States to take military action at the earliest possible date against Iraq's occupation of his country and if necessary to act without waiting for approval from the United Nations Security Council.
"As far as I am concerned, I would like my country liberated today rather than tomorrow," said Sheik Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, the emir of Kuwait, before beginning private talks with Mr. Baker.
"What I would like to see is the liberation of Kuwait as soon as possible, whether through the Security Council or not," Sheik Jaber said.
Mr. Baker was conferring with the emir on the second day of a scheduled eight-day trip to seven countries whose backing the Bush administration considers essential for any military actions against Iraq.
Mr. Baker is having to fine-tune a sometimes unwieldy political coalition that combines longtime allies in the region, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, with recent foes, such as Syria. And some of Washington's partners, especially the Soviet Union and France, have shown signs of trying out independent policies.
Mr. Baker said he did not discuss with the emir a timetable for a possible military attack, but he left little doubt that one of his aims this week was to obtain advance approval for a range of actions that would include the use of force.
"This crisis is entering a new phase, and while we are still seeking a peaceful political and diplomatic solution, we have to put ourselves in a position where we would be able to exercise any options that might be available," Mr. Baker said.
Mr. Baker said, "I don't think that we can or should rule out resort to force if that should be necessary."
Mr. Baker, who visited U.S. troops Sunday, flew back to Saudi Arabia from Bahrain, where the United States has based Navy ships and a large number of warplanes.
U.S. officials have said that President Bush and Saudi Arabia's King Fahd have agreed to consult on any decision to go to war, but the Bush administration has never publicly spelled out under what circumstances it might still act on its own.
Mr. Baker apparently did not encounter any objections from officials in Bahrain to the use of force.
U.S. and Bahraini officials were quoted as saying that Bahrain would not set conditions on U.S. military action.
Mr. Baker is scheduled to travel today to Egypt, which has dispatched more than 15,000 troops to Saudi Arabia.