WASHINGTON -- President Bush gave Iraqi President Saddam Hussein a stern warning yesterday to expect "terrible consequences" if this week's diplomatic meeting in Geneva fails to bring about the immediate withdrawal of all Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
Mr. Bush, declaring in a nationally broadcast radio address that "time is running out," continued to rule out any compromises or negotiations over demands that Iraq end its occupation of Kuwait by Jan. 15 and said that the United States would not resort to "secret diplomacy" in Geneva to resolve the crisis.
The president referred to the scheduled meeting Wednesday between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz. The meeting in Geneva, which Mr. Bush portrayed as going "the extra mile" in search of a peaceful settlement, would be the first high-level direct talks between the
two nations since Iraq invaded its oil-rich neighbor Aug. 2.
"This will not be secret diplomacy at work," Mr. Bush said. "Secretary Baker will restate, in person, a message for Saddam Hussein: withdraw from Kuwait unconditionally and immediately, or face the terrible consequences.
"Eleven days from today, Saddam Hussein will either have met the United Nations deadline for a full and unconditional withdrawal, or he will have once again defied the civilized world."
[In Baghdad, the official Iraqi News Agency quoted Information Minister Latif Jassim as rejecting the deadline. "Dates set by Bush only exist in his mind and imagination, and we don't recognize them," he was quoted as saying.]
During the broadcast of the president's remarks, which were taped Friday, Mr. Bush held a luncheon meeting at his Camp David retreat with U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar.
The White House issued a statement saying the two men reviewed "the general situation in the gulf including diplomatic activities aimed at resolving the current crisis in a peaceful manner." An administration official said later that no peace initiatives were discussed.
On his return to Washington, Mr. Perez de Cuellar told reporters, "The president wants very much to find a peaceful solution of this problem but, at the same time, he maintains his firm commitment, in the sense of having the U.N. Security Council resolution fully implemented."
He said he would await the outcome of the Baker-Aziz meeting before deciding whether to launch a last-ditch diplomatic effort in Baghdad to end the crisis.
In his address, Mr. Bush expressed strong doubts that the U.N. embargo would bring a peaceful end to the Iraqi occupation and suggested there was little reason to delay attacking the more than 530,000 Iraqi troops in and around Kuwait once the Jan. 15 deadline passes.
With each passing day, Iraqi forces "fortify and dig in deeper into Kuwait," he said. "We risk paying a higher price in the most precious currency of all -- human life -- if we give Saddam more time to prepare for war."
But Mr. Bush still left some doubt about how swiftly military force would be used.
"This is a deadline for Saddam Hussein to comply with the United Nations resolution, not a deadline for our own armed forces," he said. "Still, time is running out. It's running out because each day that passes brings real costs."
Reiterating his reasons for opposing Mr. Hussein, Mr. Bush said the Iraqi leader posed a "strategic threat" to Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and Syria as well as to the U.S.-led multinational forces in the region. Meanwhile, a "brutal occupation" continued to bring "fear, suffering and terror" to the people of Kuwait, Mr. Bush said.
In addition, "each day that passes brings Saddam Hussein further on the path to developing biological and nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them," he said. "If Saddam corners the world energy market, he can then finance further aggression, terror and blackmail. Each day that passes increases Saddam's worldwide threat to democracy."
The president said that the "added weight of higher oil prices is a crushing burden" that struggling democracies in Eastern Europe and Latin America cannot afford. "And our own economy is suffering, suffering the effects of higher oil prices and lower growth stemming from Saddam's aggression," he said.
Mr. Bush said that the United Nations "has already tried to peacefully pressure Iraq," but to no avail. He added, "As I have discussed with members of Congress . . . economic sanctions are taking a toll, but they are still not forcing Saddam out of Kuwait. Nor do we know when or even if they will be successful."