WASHINGTON -- President Bush declared last night that the United States and its allies have won the Persian Gulf war, and he ordered an end to combat operations.
"Kuwait is liberated," Mr. Bush announced in an Oval Office address. "The Iraqi army is defeated."
With all of the fighting virtually over and only minor skirmishes remaining, Mr. Bush said U.S. and coalition forces would observe a cease-fire beginning at midnight last night if the Iraqi government agreed to meet his remaining conditions.
The demands made of Iraq included:
* The release of all prisoners of war, third-country nationals and Kuwaiti hostages.
* Sharing of information on the location and nature of all land and sea mines.
* Compliance with all 12 United Nations resolutions, including acceptance in principle of the requirement that Iraq make reparations for the damage done to Kuwait during the seven-month occupation.
Mr. Bush also proposed that designated military commanders on each side meet within 48 hours to arrange for military aspects of the cease-fire.
He called upon the United Nations to formally conclude the peace agreement and said Secretary of State James A. Baker III would visit the Persian Gulf region next week to begin working out the details of the postwar world.
Mr. Bush noted that it had been seven months since the United States vowed that Iraq's invasion of Kuwait would not stand and six weeks to the day since military might was launched to make good on this commitment.
The United States and its partners "have kept their word," Mr. Bush said.
"This war is now behind us," he said. "Ahead of us is the difficult task of securing a potentially historic peace."
The president's announcement came after nearly 100 hours of ground war had badly decimated Iraqi forces and after a series of diplomatic initiatives signaled that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was drawing ever closer to surrender.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush had rejected a last-ditch bid by Mr. Hussein to win a cease-fire accompanied by the lifting of the economic sanctions that have strangled his nation since shortly after the invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2.
Although Mr. Hussein had agreed to forsake his claims to Kuwait and to make reparations for the damage caused by his occupation, Mr. Bush and the U.S. allies refused to negotiate.
U.S. and coalition officials said they needed to maintain the trade embargo as a device for continuing leverage over Iraq and possibly as a means to topple Mr. Hussein from power.
The fact that Iraq was still trying to bargain despite its obviously weakened position was discouraging to Mr. Bush until he was told yesterday just how weak the Iraqi position was, according to White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater.
After watching a rousing briefing in which Gen. H. Norman
Schwarzkopf, commander of the allied forces in the Persian Gulf, described the Iraqi forces as all but impotent, Mr. Bush was eager to put an end to the war as quickly as possible, Mr. Fitzwater said.
He also "wanted to be able to tell the American people at the earliest possible moment that their children or their husbands and wives . . . were out of harm's way and that they'd be coming home as soon as possible," the spokesman said.
At a meeting of his war council yesterday afternoon, Mr. Bush told the group, "I'd like to do it tonight."
Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called General Schwarzkopf from the Oval Office and reported back to the president that his plan presented "no problem" to the military commanders in the field.
Iraq's ambassador to the United Nations delivered a message to the president of the Security Council late last night that diplomats said included acceptance of all 12 U.N. resolutions on the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
While a Security Council meeting to discuss a cease-fire was scheduled for midnight, the United States sought to postpone action until today to give Iraq time to "digest" all the terms in the president's speech last night.
Even before his announcement, the president was already deeply involved in plans for the aftermath of Iraq's defeat.
The focus of Mr. Baker's trip next week to the Middle East is initially expected to be the gulf states themselves in cooperation with Syria and Egypt.
The administration hopes to secure the area with a minimal permanent U.S. force -- chiefly the naval presence that has been there for the past 40 years.
Beyond that, it intends to position U.S. equipment in the gulf states to allow for quick deployment of U.S. forces if necessary but to have Middle Eastern countries themselves, chiefly Egypt, provide any permanent ground forces required.
State Department officials refused to release Mr. Baker's itinerary, saying arrangements hadn't been worked out with the countries involved.
But it was expected to include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, possibly Syria, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Israel was also a possibility, since Mr. Baker has not been there and hopes to restart the Middle East peace process on two tracks: direct talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors and between Israel and the Palestinians.
Moscow was also a possible stop-- both to ensure that the Kremlin remains a cooperative partner in postwar Middle East diplomacy and to attempt to solve problems holding up a treaty on long-range nuclear weapons.
Postwar planning headed the agenda at meetings yesterday between Mr. Bush and British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who met later with Mr. Baker.
"We must now begin to look beyond victory and war," Mr. Bush said last night.
"There can be, and will be, no solely American answer to all these challenges. But we can assist and support the countries of the region and be a catalyst for peace.
"Tonight, though," he added, "let us be proud of what we have accomplished."