Defense Secretary Richard Cheney today told lawmakers that Kuwait would not satisfy Saddam Hussein's "appetite for conquest." The Iraqi president, meanwhile, again linked the Palestinian question with Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
Cheney told the Senate Armed Services Committee the United States could not wait indefinitely for economic sanctions to drive Iraq out of Kuwait.
"Despite the pain he is inflicting on his own people, there is no indication that Saddam Hussein is open to a peaceful resolution of the problem he has created," Cheney told the committee.
The United States cannot trust Saddam when "he tells us his intentions are benign," Cheney said. "If he gets away with swallowing Kuwait, his appetite for conquest will hardly be satisfied."
His testimony followed statements from former U.S. military officials and several U.S. lawmakers urging that the United States give economic sanctions against Iraq more time to take effect.
In an interview broadcast yesterday by a French television network, Saddam said the chances of war in the Persian Gulf stand at "50-50," with the outcome depending on the discussions between his government and Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
President Bush, in the latest initiative to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, offered on Friday to send Baker to Baghdad, and the Iraqis accepted.
Saddam did not respond to the French reporters' questions about the possibility of an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
But he said the "dialogue" with Baker would have to deal with Israel's withdrawal from the territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war -- lands where most residents are Palestinians. The United States has rejected any such linkage.
"If they want to make this meeting a real path toward dialogue, then we are closer to peace," Saddam said.
"But if they want to make this meeting nothing other than a formal exhibition for the American Congress, the American people or international public opinion, simply to give themselves good conscience to say, 'There, we've tried to dialogue with Iraq, without Iraq renouncing its positions' -- in that case, we're closer to war."
In other developments:
* U.S. Marines began a four-day amphibious exercise yesterday, the fourth since Operation Desert Shield began after the occupation of Kuwait on Aug. 2. Military officials refused to disclose the location of the practice landings, the number of Marines involved or whether forces from other countries took part.
* U.S. Energy Secretary James Watkins met yesterday with Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Hisham Nazer in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, to discuss plans to expand Saudi oil production and to keep prices from skyrocketing in the case of war.
A U.S. Embassy official in Riyadh said today the United States will use its nearly 600 million-barrel strategic petroleum reserve to stabilize oil prices in the event of war.
Also today, former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali today flew out of Amman, Jordan, headed to New York with 15 former American and two Canadian hostages. A spokesman said Ali plans to return to Baghdad on Christmas Eve to seek freedom for other hostages. The group left Iraq yesterday.