Secretary of State James A. Baker III announced today that he will visit Syria to coordinate the U.S. drive against Iraq with President Hafez Assad, despite differences with the Syrian government over human rights and terrorism.
Baker said President Bush directed him to go to Damascus on Thursday night after he winds up talks in Moscow with Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
"The President felt it was an important time to have a face-to-face dialogue," Baker said.
Syria, in a makeshift alliance with the United States, has sent troops to Saudi Arabia and to the United Arab Emirates to guard their oil fields against an Iraqi attack.
"We continue to have some differences with Syria and we expect to discuss those differences," Baker said.
Baker also reported that together Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the overthrown government of Kuwait will contribute $12 billion to help pay for the U.S. defense of the Persian Gulf and assist nations hurt financially by their adherence to a boycott of Iraq.
While touring the Persian Gulf last week, Baker received commitments of aid--without specific amounts--from King Fahd of Saudi Arabia and President Zayid of the United Arab Emirates. Emir Jabir al Sabah of the displaced Kuwaiti government offered $6 billion.
Baker said roughly half of the $12-billion total will go to offset American efforts in the Gulf, which include the presence of U.S. troops. The other half will assist poorer nations observing the boycott of Iraq.
Earlier today, Baker asked NATO allies to send ground troops into the Persian Gulf region to boost the military buildup and heighten pressure on Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
"He made this request for additional ground forces" at a meeting of NATO foreign ministers to discuss the weekend U.S.-Soviet summit, NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner said.
"There was no decision reached on that but obviously that was not the intention," he said after the two-hour meeting.
A British official, who asked not to be identified, said his government will "give active consideration" to the latest U.S. request.