WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration moved ahead yesterday with arrangements for the United States' first direct talks with Iraq since it invaded Kuwait, but senior White House officials rejected what they saw as an Iraqi attempt to use the talks to link the Persian Gulf crisis with Israel's occupation of Arab lands.
"Palestine is not an issue on the table," Vice President Dan Quayle said in an interview yesterday on Cable News Network's "Evans and Novak" show. "There is no linkage."
Restating the position President Bush took Friday in proposing the talks, Mr. Quayle said the offer did not signify a change of policy or an attempt to negotiate anything beyond the United Nations' resolutions calling for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. The most recent resolution, passed last week, authorizes the use of force if Iraq hasn't pulled out by Jan. 15.
A few hours before Mr. Quayle's views were broadcast, the official Iraqi News Agency reported that the Iraqi government accepted Mr. Bush's offer for peace talks but added that it wanted a "serious and deep dialogue" that would include the Palestinian question.
Mr. Bush announced Friday that he would send Mr. Baker to Baghdad to meet directly with President Saddam Hussein before the United Nations' Jan. 15 deadline. He said he planned to meet with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz late in the week of Dec. 10 in Washington.
Robert M. Gates, deputy national security adviser, stressed yesterday that the proposed talks were "not an attempt to have some sort of a deal. There may be an incompatible perspective" by the two countries on the purpose of the talks, he said in a CNN interview.
He emphasized, as did Mr. Quayle, that the administration intends the talks only to be a chance to emphasize the U.N. demands for Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait and restoration of the Kuwaiti government.
Mr. Gates said the contact was intended to give Mr. Hussein an opportunity to learn directly the seriousness of the United States and its allies and their preparedness to act jointly to enforce the terms of the U.N. resolution.
Mr. Gates joined top military strategists and political advisers yesterday in intensive discussions with Mr. Bush at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md. Those present included Defense Secretary Dick Cheney; Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft; and Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
Mr. Gates said that the meeting was "not some council of war" and that the discussions also dealt with budgetary matters and Mr. Bush's visit to South America, for which he departs today.
The president's overture was applauded by congressional leaders of both parties.
It also helped to mute calls for a special congressional session on the Persian Gulf crisis.
Mr. Bush's decision to send Mr. Baker to Baghdad will make clear that the "United States intends to stand by the U.N. resolutions," said House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash.
"The secretary can take that message very firmly in a direct way to the president of Iraq," Mr. Foley said.
In another interview, however, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger warned that by sending Mr. Baker to Iraq, Mr. Bush was endangering the unity of the international coalition opposing Iraq because U.S. allies could see the move as a green light to launch their own negotiations.
Talks could lead to a compromise that would reward Mr. Hussein for his aggression and leave intact his weapons of mass destruction, Mr. Kissinger said on ABC-TV's "Nightline" program Friday.
The president's invitation was formally delivered yesterday to the Iraqi government by Joseph Wilson, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Baghdad, according to spokesmen for the White House and the State Department.
The White House said yesterday that it would not comment on Iraq's reply because it had not received a formal response.
The Iraqi News Agency quoted a government statement as saying that if the United States brings other parties to the table, Iraq "will call on representatives of countries and parties which are connected with unresolved disputes and issues."