WASHINGTON -- Demonstrating no signs of stepping back from his demand that all Iraqi troops must be withdrawn from Kuwait by Jan. 15, President Bush said in an interview scheduled for broadcast tonight that "no price is too heavy to pay" to repel "the aggression of Saddam Hussein against Kuwait."
Accusing the Iraqi president of committing genocide against the people of Kuwait, Mr. Bush said that the world had faced "nothing of this moral importance since World War II."
Mr. Bush, who returned to the White House yesterday afternoon after a 12-day holiday at Camp David, faces a tense period leading up to Jan. 15, the deadline set by the United Nations Security Council for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait or face the threat of military action by a U.S.-led international coalition assembled in Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf points.
Shortly after returning to Washington, Mr. Bush held an 80-minute meeting at the White House with his key advisers: Secretary of State James A. Baker III; Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney; Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft; and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu.
[A senior official told the New York Times that the White House talks focused on whether it would be useful to send Mr. Baker on a tour of the gulf and Europe in the next week or two. He would seek to coordinate military and diplomatic policies and ensure that the alliance is firm.
[The discussions also involved how to deal with Iraq after the crisis is resolved, including how best to check its nuclear weapons potential, the official said. He noted that there is also the possibility of an allied military occupation of the country.
[Also on the agenda was how the administration can best consult with Congress, which begins its 102nd session tomorrow.]
Mr. Bush was scheduled to meet today with Vice President Dan Quayle, who spent the New Year's holiday in Saudi Arabia visiting U.S. troops, and tomorrow with congressional leaders on whose support he is counting to keep the House and Senate from passing measures restricting his opportunities to act or demonstrating political divisions over his gulf policy.
If Mr. Bush sends Mr. Baker on a visit to the gulf in coming days, Mr. Baker would be in place to make a quick side trip to meet with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz or President Hussein if the current deadlock over the timing of a visit can be overcome.
Mr. Bush's hourlong interview was conducted at the White House Dec. 16 by British television personality David Frost. It is scheduled to be aired on television stations of the Public Broadcasting Service and on the National Public Radio network.
The interview offered a portrait of Mr. Bush determined to send no signals of compromise or concession to Mr. Hussein, whose forces invaded and occupied Kuwait on Aug. 2. Now he and Mr. Hussein face the prospects of unleashing their massive forces, separated now by the border between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, where U.S. troops have been deployed in increasingly massive numbers for nearly five months.
The United States is building a force of more than 400,000 troops in the region, and the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq are said to number about half a million.
Like many of the president's other public statements and those, private as well as public, made by his most senior advisers, those in the interview become yet one more piece in the unyielding message that the administration is trying to send to Mr. Hussein in hopes that it can persuade him that he has no choice but to retreat.
In the interview, Mr. Bush said that the U.N. resolutions calling for Iraq's departure from Kuwait and restoration of the Kuwaiti government must be met "to a 'T.' "
What if Mr. Hussein were to promise a withdrawal, actually begin to withdraw, or decide to give up all the territory he has seized save for two strategic islands, Bubiyan and Warba, in the gulf on the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border, or the Rumailah oil field straddling the two countries?
"Certainly it's not acceptable to have some condition," Mr. Bush said. "The United Nations resolution says 'out' by Jan. 15. So half-way withdrawals, or, well, 'I'll do it tomorrow' excuses -- that's not good enough."
Mr. Bush also made it clear that Mr. Hussein must meet the United Nations' call for some form of reparations to restore Kuwait to its pre-invasion condition.
Mr. Bush said had not decided whether to launch an attack to force Mr. Hussein's troops out of Kuwait. But he made clear his intention to open any conflict with a punishing aerial attack to destroy Mr. Hussein's air force and aerial defenses.
PTC "He doesn't know what he's up against. He doesn't believe the willpower of the United States or the United Kingdom or France or Egypt or the Saudi Arabians to use that power against him. So we click right on down to a deadline."
Mr. Bush spoke at length of a report from Amnesty International, the human rights organization, that Iraqi forces had tortured and raped Kuwaitis. "The torturing of a handicapped child, the shooting of young boys in front of their parents, the rape of women dragged out of the home . . . the tying of those that are being tortured to ceiling fans so they turn and turn," he said.
Asked whether the attacks amounted to genocide, the systematic extermination of a people or nation, Mr. Bush said: "It is. It's a deliberate wiping them out . . . a brutality that is close to unprecedented in history. Standing up against this aggression -- no price is too heavy to pay for it," he said.