The White House said today it welcomes last-minute peace initiatives in the Persian Gulf crisis but warned that military action “could occur at any point” after the Tuesday deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait.
“Any moment after the 15th is borrowed time,” White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said.
As prospects for averting war grew dimmer, Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) said, “It’s time to rally behind the forces in the field.”
Nunn, an opponent of the congressional resolution backing the use of force, said that debate is “behind us.” But he also cautioned Americans to expect “confusion” and possible bad news from the battlefield if war breaks out.
At the White House, Fitzwater said: “We all share a sense of deep concern and somber anxiety about reaching this Jan. 15 deadline. . . . We ask the American people to pray for our country and pray for our troops over there . . . “
Secretary of State James A. Baker III conferred in Canada with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. Baker expressed hope that “as the clock ticks down to midnight Jan. 15th that there will be an opportunity to resolve this crisis peacefully and politically.”
But, he said, “that opportunity now must come from Baghdad.”
Fitzwater made a similar comment: “Every day that passes is a day for Saddam Hussein to choose peace over war.”
Although Tuesday is the U.N. deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal, Fitzwater said, “There’s never a deadline for peace initiatives.
“We encourage peace initiatives at any point,” he said. “We won’t turn off anybody but that doesn’t diminish the reality of the deadline.” On the other hand, Fitzwater advised diplomats not to go to Baghdad after Tuesday’s deadline.
The White House spokesman said President Bush has not made a final decision to go to war. However, he said, after Tuesday, “Everyone has to assume that military action could occur at any point after that time.”
Iraqi Ambassador Mohammed Mashat was preparing to leave the United States, according to diplomatic sources. Joseph Wilson, ranking U.S. diplomat in Iraq, left Baghdad on Saturday.
At the Iraqi Embassy, a coalition of church, women’s and Arab-American groups hand-delivered an appeal for Iraq to avert war by withdrawing from Kuwait.