Secretary of State James A. Baker III told American combat pilots today that “we pass the brink” of war with Iraq precisely at midnight next Tuesday.
In a tough speech, clearly aimed at Saddam Hussein as well, he said the deadline will not be extended and that the Iraqi leader will be making “his most tragic miscalculation” if he fails to pull his troops out of Kuwait by then.
Baker’s speech, prepared for delivery to the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, normally based in England, followed a breakdown in U.S. diplomatic efforts to persuade Hussein to withdraw Iraqi troops before the deadline the U.N. Security Council set last November.
Baker told the pilots and crews assembled in a hangar, “You are the combat crews who will join in the liberation of Kuwait.”
Baker recalled that when he spoke to many of the same pilots at the same base last September, he was unable to say when they might be called into action.
“Now as the clock ticks down to midnight, Jan. 15,” he said, “I cannot give you a definitive answer. But I can tell you that you will not have to wait much longer for an answer to that question.”
Baker directed the speech also to Hussein, saying the Iraqi might miscalculate “where the brink really is” and wait to make a move.
“Just so there is no misunderstanding,” Baker said, “let me be absolutely clear: We pass the brink at midnight, Jan. 15.”
The deadline “is real,” Baker said. “Efforts to extend it or postpone it will not succeed. Saddam can believe that or not, but if he doesn’t he will have made his most tragic miscalculation.”
Earlier today, Saudi Arabia pledged to bear 40% to 50% of the costs of confronting Iraq in the Persian Gulf, but U.S. and Saudi officials refused to estimate how much that might be in dollars.
As Baker spoke, other diplomacy continued. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger was being sent to Israel for talks Saturday night with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
The Bush Administration wants Israel to hold its fire unless it is attacked, fearing the Arab coalition against Iraq would splinter otherwise.