HAFR AL BATIN, Saudi Arabia -- Saudi Arabia's King Fahd appealed yesterday for Iraq to "avoid bloodshed" and pledged to support negotiations over Iraq's territorial claims following a pullout from Kuwait.
The Saudi monarch continued to emphasize that a withdrawal of troops from Kuwait was a "precondition" to any negotiations, but his remarks to Western journalists appeared to endorse the idea of offering Iraqi President Saddam Hussein the prospect of progress on his claims against Kuwait without appearing to reward Iraq for its Aug. 2 invasion of the tiny oil emirate.
U.S. officials continue to emphasize that they would not negotiate with Iraq, but both U.S. and Arab officials have quietly begun to explore the idea of negotiations after withdrawal as one framework for avoiding war.
"First they withdraw," King Fahd said. "Then, if there is any demand by Iraq to Kuwait, the two countries should sit together and discuss the matter between themselves, and whatever they agree on, we will support. If they want us to intervene in any way and be part in the negotiations, we will be happy to do that."
Later, in an address to thousands of multinational troops assembled near giant King Khalid Military City, an air base and military complex in northern Saudi Arabia, the Saudi monarch also cautioned that the allied forces assembled in Saudi Arabia would accept nothing less than an unconditional pullout.
"I am stating from here, this problem will not be solved peacefully if he does not withdraw from Kuwait unconditionally and restore the legitimate government," he told the troops.
"All the doors are locked, but they can be opened both ways. . . . Our troops here are determined to liberate Kuwait, one way or the other."
The king's public appearances yesterday were extraordinary, not only because it represented his first review of the multinational troops assembled in the kingdom since August, but because the normally reclusive monarch agreed to an unusual exchange with U.S. and British journalists, freely answering nearly a dozen questions and later chatting amiably with reporters.
King Fahd told reporters that his country was now "a battlefield," but he added, "We are sure, God willing, that peace will be realized -- either way."
"I share with President Bush his instincts and his hope, and I hope Saddam Hussein will take the important step and withdraw from Kuwait and avoid the bloodshed and the catastrophe of war."
The impromptu news conference and the position of the U.S. military commander, Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, close to King Fahd demonstrated the extent to which the U.S. presence here has in many ways come to be accepted.
King Fahd made a separate trip to review about 1,000 U.S. forces, including the 1st Cavalry Division's color guard and marching band, which played the Saudi and U.S. national anthems.