The Bush Administration decided today to reduce the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait but to keep it open in defiance of a demand by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
With the announcement, the United States joined a growing list of countries including Britain and Italy that plan to defy Hussein's order.
The Iraqi government, which announced the annexation of Kuwait as part of Iraq on Aug. 9, has ordered all foreign embassies closed by Friday and has told all diplomatic personnel to leave Kuwait, or else lose their diplomatic protection by Friday at noon, Kuwait time.
Speaking at a news conference at his vacation home in Maine, President Bush explained that the United States will not close the embassy "because the occupation of Iraq is illegal under international law. . . . This illegal regime cannot shut down legitimate missions as a result of their aggression."
One senior State Department official, asked what he thought would happen on Friday, said, "We don't know. the Iraqis have said a lot of things. Sometimes they follow through and sometimes they don't."
U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait W. Nathaniel Howell will remain at his post with sufficient staff to look after the welfare of the estimated 2,500 Americans whose departure from Kuwait has been blocked by Hussein, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.
The State Department said it was taking Hussein at his word that diplomats are free to leave Kuwait and has ordered non-essential staff and all dependents to depart.
As expected, the President today ordered military reservists to active duty, then declared that the United States has "all the authority it needs" and ample naval power to intercept ships and enforce the embargo against Iraq.
Bush's order did not say how many reservists would be activated.
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said manpower proposals are being prepared now, and will be presented to him on Thursday. "I expect that we will not use the full 200,000 authority that's in the statute," he said in Kennebunkport, where he met earlier today with Bush. "It will be considerably short of that."
He would not confirm estimates that about 40,000 people would be called up by the end of the month.
The United Nations this week considered, but has yet to approve, a resolution that the multinational forces in the Persian Gulf region be allowed to use the minimum force necessary to enforce U.N. sanctions against Iraq.
Bush said he "might be prepared" to give the United Nations a little more time to act, "but at this point I'm not prepared to say we are going to insist on U.N. action before we act further."
Also today, King Hussein of Jordan said he would visit Iraq and other Arab countries in a new drive to avert war in the gulf.
"We are almost facing the kind of crisis of a world gone mad," the king said.
Iraq, in its latest use of trapped foreigners to pressure the international community, said today it would allow some French and Japanese nationals stranded in Iraq and occupied Kuwait to leave as a "goodwill gesture."
Iraq also claimed today that two aircraft flying in from Saudi Arabia violated its airspace. It did not identify the planes, nor say flatly that they were military aircraft.