President Bush told U.S. troops deployed in the Middle East Wednesday they are “more than a match for a tyrant bent on aggression.” Later, he and his senior advisers prepared a program to spread among key U.S. allies the cost of the massive military operation in Saudi Arabia, Administration officials said.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon disclosed that sailors from a U.S. warship had boarded two cargo vessels in the Red Sea.
Interrupting his 3 1/2-week Maine vacation--as he fended off concerns that his recreation activities were sending a confusing and possibly damaging signal--Bush met in the late afternoon with the National Security Council, which was hastily summoned to the White House for an unannounced conference.
A White House official said the President and his advisers reviewed contributions by 22 nations to the international effort to pressure Iraqi President Saddam Hussein into withdrawing from Kuwait and releasing the thousands of foreigners trapped in his country.
The two-tiered plan also calls for U.S. allies to share the burden of helping those in the region cope with the financial hardship caused by the cutoff of trade with Iraq, Administration officials said.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one Administration official said the program, which may be announced as early as today, could cost $23 billion for its first year.
At the heart of the effort to find a way to share the cost of the U.S. military deployment is a growing concern that Japan and Western Europe, which are more dependent than the United States on Middle East oil, are not shouldering enough of the burden assumed by the United States in the wake of Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Bush’s plan would also call for greater financial help from Saudi Arabia and members of the wealthy, exiled Kuwaiti government.
The issue was raised on Tuesday when Bush met with members of Congress who came back to Washington with reports of such complaints in their districts.
The Pentagon said Tuesday the operation was costing about $46 million a day, and would total $2.5 billion by Sept. 30.
At the same time, the Administration has been seeking a way to help the struggling nations in the region near Iraq--among them Jordan, Egypt and Turkey--cope with the cost of lost business with Iraq, one of their key trading partners, under the U.N. Security Council’s economic and military embargo. A $10-billion fund would be created for them.
The Administration is attempting to send signals of determination--both to Hussein and to U.S. allies--while it casts a skeptical eye on the diplomatic efforts by U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and on an anticipated meeting of the Arab League.
In what amounted to a radio pep talk to the more than 50,000 troops sweltering in the Saudi desert, 50,000 sailors and Marines serving in the U.S. fleet in the region and 35,000 airmen deployed there, Bush said: “You’re proving you’ll do what it takes at any hour, anywhere, to contain aggression and keep freedom’s light alive.”
However, his message apparently reached relatively few troops in the Persian Gulf area initially, because the Armed Forces Radio Network, which broadcast it live, is said to have no transmitters directed at Saudi Arabia.
“You stand on the front line against aggression and international lawlessness,” the President said in his speech from the Oval Office. “We’ve never sought conflict, nor do we hope to chart a course for other nations. But at the hands of injustice, in the face of aggression, ours is a once-reluctant fist now clenched resolutely.”
Bush described their job--and the difficulty of carrying it out in the midst of the torrid desert summer--as “one of the toughest military missions in modern history.”
Meanwhile, the tension brought about by the massive flow of GIs and weapons to Saudi Arabia appeared to ease slightly, although the military activity continued.
The ship boarding, by sailors from the guided missile destroyer Sampson, occurred Tuesday. One ship, the Kotawirami, a Sri Lankan freighter bound for Iraq with an undisclosed cargo, was diverted. The Connie, a Liberian ship carrying lubrication oil and vegetable oil, was boarded and then allowed to proceed to its non-Iraqi destination, the Pentagon said.
In another development, the Pentagon disclosed that the crash early Wednesday of a C-5A jumbo cargo jet in Ramstein, West Germany, killed 13 airmen, including nine reservists, and injured four. The airplane was carrying rations and cargo-handling equipment, including forklift trucks and conveyors, to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Times staff writers Jim Mann and John M. Broder contributed to this report.