Iraqi troops retreat; U.N. seeks options

The Associated Press

KUWAIT As Iraqi troops retreated from the Kuwait border, the United States and its allies turned their focus Wednesday to heading off future crises that might be provoked by Saddam Hussein. Thousands of U.S. troops continued to stream into the region as insurance.

Meanwhile, six Persian Gulf countries committed their own troops to the allied effort after a meeting in Kuwait with Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

One option that Christopher pursued with the Gulf ministers and with British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd involved establishing through the U.N. Security Council a zone near the Kuwaiti border that would be off-limits to Iraqi tanks and other heavy military equipment. Iraqi flights already are banned in the area.

Defense Secretary William Perry was expected to continue those discussions when he arrived in the region Thursday. However, facing resistance from some allies, the White House was not publicly pushing the idea on Wednesday.

Although U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright said she had raised the idea at the United Nations, White House press secretary Dee Dee Myers told reporters, "That is not a proposal that we have shopped around."

The French, in particular, urged caution. Two French Cabinet ministers said Iraq had not violated any agreements and the West should not over-react.

Whatever the details of the allied response, Christopher said, "we are resolved and committed that Saddam should not be permitted to project the world into crisis at his own whim." Saudi Arabia and five smaller oil nations Oman, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kuwait itself agreed to deploy part of their 19,000-man "Peninsula Shield" in Kuwait along with additional troops from each of the six. The total was not announced.

Back in Washington, a senior military official said at the Pentagon that a majority of the Iraqi forces that had been massed near the Kuwaiti border were moving away.

"Portions of all but one brigade have moved," the official said, though he cautioned that it was not known where the troops might be going.

It will be several days before that can be learned with certainty, so no hold is being placed on the flow of U.S. troops into the region, he and other officials said.

The Pentagon said Iraq in recent days had increased the number of tanks in the vicinity of the Kuwaiti border from 650 to 1,090.

Iraq's foreign minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, said his country had indeed withdrawn its forces. "All troops whose deployment had caused such an uproar in the United States have completed their retreat to rear positions this evening," he said in a statement carried by the state-run Iraqi News Agency.

President Clinton and other U.S. leaders have discounted such statements in recent days, waiting for physical confirmation.

In Baghdad, Saddam met privately with Russian envoys while military attaches from Moscow and Beijing headed south to see if Iraq had withdrawn its forces from the Kuwaiti border.

Christopher, in a pep talk to thousands of American soldiers, some of whom arrived Tuesday night from Ft. Stewart, Ga., said that if Saddam plunged the region into war again he would face 'the full fury of the finest military organization in the world."

Their presence, Christopher told the troops at the Doha base, was designed "to stop Saddam Hussein in his tracks."

Christopher, coatless in the gathering twilight, mingled briefly with the soldiers before flying to Israel to resume his diplomatic effort to promote a peace treaty between Israel and Syria.

There are nearly 20,000 U.S. soldiers and marines in Kuwait, an additional 44,500 deployed or on the way to the area, and 156,000 on alert. Hurd said a British battalion arrived Tuesday and France was sending air and naval forces.

Spc. Albert Vadnais, an Army mechanic from Wenatchee, Wash., said he was not worrying whether Saddam would send his army across the border. "We'll take him out," Vadnais declared.

Tanks, trucks and other military equipment have been positioned at Doha since early in the year in the event Iraq tried to repeat its 1990 thrust into Kuwait, a wealthy oil country.

Christopher said he had discussed with the Gulf foreign ministers new measures to deter Iraq in the future. An option beside the exclusion zone is having the U.N. Security Council press Iraq to sell $1.6 billion worth of oil and use the money to purchase food and other necessities.

"We are united on what the goals should be," Christopher told reporters. "We are exploring the techniques."

But, "first things first," he added, referring to the Iraqi force. "We stand shoulder to shoulder to resist any aggression from Iraq."

He said the countries would share the cost of the military buildup, but because it is under way he said he could not estimate the expense.

"One of the things that struck me is the unanimity of the Arab countries in contrast to 1990," Christopher said.

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