WASHINGTON -- Iraq defied the United Nations' midnight deadline for withdrawal from Kuwait, erasing nearly all hope for a diplomatic alternative to war despite a final pledge last evening by the U.N. secretary-general to make "every effort" to address the Palestinian conflict.
The passage of the deadline freed the United States and its principal allies, which have committed themselves politically to enforcing 12 U.N. Security Council resolutions, to drive Iraq from Kuwait by force.
[Early this morning, President Bush issued a statement reiterating past U.S. pronouncements. "Jan. 15 was a day for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait," he said, according to the Associated Press. "It was not a deadline for U.N. action. The choice for peace remains with Saddam Hussein."]
While the timing of any allied attack remained unknown, the prospects of war mounted as Iraq failed to start pulling troops out by midnight EST and ignored not only the late appeal by U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar but also entreaties earlier in the day by both the United States and Egypt.
At the Pentagon yesterday, a spokesman said of Iraq, "We don't see any evidence that they are in any way pulling out of Kuwait. Quite the contrary, from our last briefing the number of forces, tanks, artillery pieces and so forth has gone up, which is certainly not consistent with their withdrawal."
There remained a slight hope that Iraq, which refused to recognize the U.N. deadline, would make an overture once it passed. The State Department did not rule out all chances of responding to a post-deadline peace bid by Iraq. But spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler, when questioned, repeatedly said yesterday, "This deadline is very real."
Mr. Perez de Cuellar, in a brief statement read in a United Nations conference room in New York, said: "I have every assurance once again from the highest levels of government that with the resolution of the present crisis, every effort will be made to address, in a comprehensive manner, the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the Palestinian question. I pledge my every effort to this end."
Iraq would not be attacked once withdrawal was under way, he said. In addition, once withdrawal commenced, he said, he would deploy U.N. observers and, if necessary, U.N. peacekeeping forces.
"In addition, with compliance of the resolutions, I would urge the Security Council to review its decisions imposing sanctions against Iraq.
"I would also encourage a process whereby foreign forces deployed in the area would be phased out."
His language contained the "linkage" between the Persian Gulf crisis and the Palestinian issue that the United States has rejected since Iraq first proposed it less than two weeks after invading Kuwait Aug. 2.
Linkage aside, the statement conforms with U.S. officials' repeatedly stated wish to focus new attention on the Arab-Israeli issue once the gulf crisis is over.
"We don't have any problems with it," a senior U.S. official said last night, although the government was officially silent. "It's his statement. . . . Nothing in here comes as any surprise to us."
The secretary-general's statement brought an anti-climactic end to U.N. efforts to resolve the crisis before the deadline. The Security Council had deadlocked earlier in the day over French and British proposals for a final appeal by the world body.
France had proposed Monday that the council issue a statement pledging an international conference to settle the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian conflicts once Iraq announced its withdrawal and began a rapid and massive retreat.
The proposal was rejected by the United States and Britain because it linked the two issues, and France scrapped it yesterday afternoon, saying Iraq had not responded.
French Prime Minister Michel Rocard said there was now no more hope for a diplomatic solution, and French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas canceled a last-minute trip to Baghdad.
Britain and the Soviet Union had countered the French proposal yesterday with a joint statement calling on Iraq to display "wisdom and responsibility" and "make the only necessary step" -- unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait.
But while the United States endorsed that statement, the Security Council failed to back it, apparently because of French objections.
While divided on approaches for a last-minute peace proposal, the United States and France remained united on the need for enforcing the U.N. deadline.
Earlier yesterday, the United States and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak called on Mr. Hussein to prevent war by withdrawing.
"Everyone is crying out for this man to come to his senses," Ms. Tutwiler said at the State Department. "This is within his grip and his hands to choose the path of peace and not possible use of force against his nation, against his people -- and it is Saddam Hussein who can stop this."
Later, in a televised address broadcast on CNN, Mr. Mubarak made a more emotional appeal: