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Bush Halts Combat : ‘War Is Now Behind Us,’ He Says : Gulf conflict: The President lays out conditions for a permanent cease-fire. Iraq must immediately free all prisoners and comply with U.N. resolutions.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

President Bush announced a suspension of hostilities in the Persian Gulf War Wednesday night, declaring to the nation and the world: “Kuwait is liberated. Iraq’s army is defeated. Our military objectives are met.”

Speaking from the Oval Office just 97 hours after U.S. and allied forces stormed into Iraq and Kuwait, the President said the coalition would suspend all offensive combat operations at midnight EST, and laid out conditions that Iraq must satisfy to make the suspension permanent.

“We must now begin to look beyond victory in war,” Bush said. “This war is now behind us. Ahead of us is the difficult task of securing a potentially historic peace.”

Bush said the next steps are up to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He said Iraq must:

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* Return immediately all coalition prisoners of war it holds, any citizens from other countries, and the remains of U.S. and allied soldiers killed in the conflict.

* Release all Kuwaitis it has seized. According to some reports, the number is in the thousands.

* Inform Kuwaiti authorities about the location and characteristics of any mines its forces planted at sea or on land.

* Comply fully with each of the “relevant” resolutions passed by the U.N. Security Council in an effort to force the Iraqi occupiers out of Kuwait.

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Among the resolutions, Bush said, were those demanding that Iraq rescind its annexation of Kuwait as its 19th province, and requiring it to pay compensation to Kuwait for the destruction it caused during the occupation.

Late Wednesday, Iraq’s U.N. ambassador received a letter from his nation’s foreign minister, Tarik Aziz, authorizing him to tell the Security Council that Iraq is prepared to accept all 12 resolutions the council adopted after Iraq invaded Kuwait last Aug. 2.

The letter was received before President Bush’s address and does not speak to the issue of prisoners held by Iraq, particularly the thousands of Kuwaiti citizens taken to Iraq by Saddam Hussein’s soldiers.

According to diplomatic sources, U.S. officials will take the position that Iraq has come a long way in complying with the demands of the Bush Administration, but that the new Aziz letter is still deficient and further clarifications are needed.

Bush’s declaration suspending hostilities--coming 209 days after Hussein sent his troops into Kuwait--brought the United States to the brink of an achievement it has not seen in nearly half a century: unquestioned victory in war.

But success was not without its price:

Altogether, 537,000 U.S. troops were assigned to the Gulf--the largest overseas deployment of American servicemen and women to a theater of combat since the Vietnam War. Of that total, as of late Wednesday, 79 were killed in action: 28 in the land battle, 23 in the air war and 28 when an Iraqi Scud missile struck a barracks outside of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, Monday night. In addition, 44 were listed as missing or prisoners, and 213 were wounded.

There was no official word on Iraqi casualties, but the six weeks of bombing, and the final four days of ground combat, were believed to have taken a toll in the tens of thousands.

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Bush called on the Iraqi government to designate military commanders to meet with their counterparts in the allied forces within 48 hours to complete the military arrangements for the cease-fire. The President said he had asked Secretary of State James A. Baker III to call for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council to work on the necessary cease-fire arrangements.

The cessation of hostilities, Bush said, is contingent upon Iraq’s halting all attacks on coalition forces and ending its Scud missile attacks on any nation in the Persian Gulf area.

“If Iraq violates these terms, coalition forces will be free to resume military operations,” the President declared.

Bush said he would dispatch Baker to the region next week to resume consultations with allied leaders.

Personal Satisfaction

For the President, Wednesday’s developments appeared to be a source of great personal satisfaction. He seemed to be barely suppressing a smile throughout the eight-minute speech, as he reminded the nation that seven months ago, “America and the world drew a line in the sand” and declared that “the aggression against Kuwait would not stand.

“Tonight, America and the world have kept their word,” he said.

For the coalition, the official goal of Operation Desert Shield, and its eventual offensive component, Operation Desert Storm, was Iraq’s ouster from Kuwait, the establishment of political stability in the Gulf, restoration of the government of Kuwait’s emir, Sheik Jabbar al Ahmed al Sabah, and the safety of foreigners in Kuwait.

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But Bush had another, more personal goal: the destruction of Hussein’s military machine--a massive force built over more than a decade. With the reportedly successful completion of the war’s climactic tank battle Wednesday, that objective apparently has been achieved.

“Kuwait is once more in the hands of Kuwaitis, in control of their own destiny,” Bush said in his televised address. “We share in their joy, a joy tempered only by our compassion for their ordeal. Tonight, the Kuwaiti flag once again flies above the capital of a free and sovereign nation, and the American flag flies above our embassy.”

The Final Goal

Left unresolved is a final, unstated goal: the removal of Hussein--weakened, now, at least temporarily--from any position from which he can work his will on the volatile Middle East.

“It is not with the people of Iraq that the United States has any quarrel--"but instead with their leadership, and above all with Saddam Hussein,” Bush said.

“This remains the case,” he said.

“You, the people of Iraq, are not our enemy. We do not seek your destruction. We have treated your POWs with kindness,” he continued. “Coalition forces fought this war only as a last resort and look forward to the day when Iraq is led by people prepared to live in peace with their neighbors.”

Bush told the nation that “this is not a time of euphoria, certainly not a time to gloat” over the crushing allied victory.

“But it is a time of pride--pride in our troops, pride in our friends who stood with us during the crisis, pride in our nation and the people whose strength and resolve made victory quick, decisive and just,” he said.

“And soon we will open wide our arms to welcome back home to America our magnificent fighting forces.”

Earlier Wednesday, with its vaunted Republican Guard under heavy allied attack, the Iraqi government scrambled to save the remnants of its army, demanding an immediate U.N.-mandated cease-fire. In return, the Iraqi regime offered to rescind its annexation of Kuwait and accept the terms of at least three U.N. resolutions on Kuwait.

But the Bush Administration promptly rejected the offer as “far short of what’s necessary.”

A letter from Foreign Minister Aziz, broadcast by Baghdad Radio just after 6 p.m. Baghdad time, said the regime would comply with Security Council resolutions on Kuwaiti sovereignty and Iraqi payment of war reparations, and promised to release allied prisoners of war once a truce is in place.

But the message, delivered to U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar through Soviet diplomatic channels, also demanded that the Security Council lift the economic embargo on Iraq and the American-led air and sea blockade deployed to enforce the embargo in the weeks after Iraq’s invasion and occupation of Kuwait.

Before the embargo was ordered last August, more than 90% of Iraq’s income came from the export of oil. Exports were blocked by the shutdown of pipelines through Turkey and Saudi Arabia and the interdiction of tankers at sea.

The conditions were much like others advanced during Baghdad’s frantic series of diplomatic maneuvers since early August to avoid the outbreak of war and, since Sunday, to forestall defeat of Iraq’s forces in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

Baghdad Radio said the Iraqi leadership had made an open appeal to the Soviet Union to push the cease-fire plan through the U.N. Security Council in the face of likely vetoes by permanent members whose military forces provide the muscle of the attacking allies--the United States, Britain and France.

After meeting with Bush on Wednesday, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd rebuffed the earlier Aziz letter, saying any such Iraqi statement must “clearly” come from President Hussein and must accept all 12 Security Council resolutions aimed at Baghdad.

In addition, Britain’s U.N. ambassador, David Hannay, said the Security Council president, Ambassador Isack Mudenge of Zimbabwe, would stress that Iraq should set a precise time period for the return of all prisoners of war, including all Kuwaitis taken captive.

“He will raise the very serious and worrying matter of the Kuwaiti civilians who we believe in rather large numbers are being held in Iraq,” Hannay said.

“There is the text of a letter that’s been published on Baghdad Radio along with an accompanying statement which indicates the Iraqis are still conditioning their acceptance of the resolutions on lifting the economic embargo,” said Thomas R. Pickering, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “If that’s the case, it’s obviously not what we are looking for.”

Canada’s U.N. ambassador put it more succinctly.

“It’s not for him to say the sanctions will be canceled,” said Yves Fortier. “It is too little, too late again.”

“I wish they had a one-sentence letter,” said a top diplomat from Yemen.

At one point during a day when diplomats and U.N. translators strained to grasp the precise meaning of Iraq’s official note to the council’s president and to Perez de Cuellar, Iraq’s Ambassador Abdul Amir Anbari tried from a phone booth near the delegates’ lounge to gain instructions through his nation’s embassy in Jordan.

Talking to reporters later, he noted that the sanctions against his nation were imposed by the council because of Iraq’s refusal to withdraw its troops from Kuwait. “Now we are complying,” Anbari said.

Both Hurd and Baker made it clear that they would fight any effort to relax the embargo on shipping arms to Iraq.

“Our position is as long as that particular government continues in power, we’ll want to make certain, at least with respect to arms, that there are some sort of constraints on rearmament and the shipment of arms into that country--and particularly weapons of mass destruction,” Baker said.

An Administration official, speaking anonymously Wednesday, said the continuation of the sanctions, the seizure of Iraqi assets that have been frozen in other countries, and the continuation of controls on the flow of Iraqi oil exports through Turkey and Saudi Arabia are among the options available to pressure Iraq to comply with the U.N. resolutions.

Looking to Future

The White House, meanwhile, began looking beyond the final shots in the war toward the economic and military pressure that will remain at its disposal to shape Iraq’s future role in the region.

White House Press Secretary Marlin Fitzwater said Bush is focusing on such issues “more and more,” and that other allied foreign ministers--among them Roland Dumas of France and Hans-Dietrich Genscher of Germany--would be visiting Washington in coming days to discuss the future of the region.

And in Saudi Arabia, the new U.S. ambassador to Kuwait, Edward Gnehm, was given word to take up his post in Kuwait city.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said several dozen staffers will get the embassy “up and running,” restoring basic operations by providing “political, economic, consular, public affairs and administrative types of functions.”

Tutwiler said the Kuwaiti government already has awarded dozens of contracts--including one to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers--to rebuild the war-torn emirate.

She said the Corps of Engineers, which is authorized to perform construction work in friendly countries and long has been active in the Gulf region, has agreed to handle emergency repairs of Kuwait’s transportation system and public infrastructure. The corps plans to subcontract some of the work to international construction firms.

In addition, a special Army reserve unit has been sent to Kuwait to advise the government on the restoration of public services.

In London, British Prime Minister John Major said Wednesday that allied forces operating in Iraq do not plan to remain in that country after hostilities cease.

“We are not planning to occupy territory or dismember Iraq,” he said in remarks made outside his office-residence at No. 10 Downing St. “In due course, things will return to normal.”

Similarly, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said Wednesday in a speech to the American Legion that the coalition has “no intention of staying” in Iraq indefinitely--just “long enough to stabilize the situation” and make sure that Hussein, or his successors, do not “use the enormous wealth of Iraq to simply build a brand new military machine that once again threatens the peace and stability in the region.”

“Some sort of arrangement will have to be made for the security of Kuwait in the not-too-distant future,” Cheney said.

An aide to the British prime minister said that in the event of a peace agreement, “We’ll get our forces out as soon as possible.”

The official said it was not allied policy to target Saddam Hussein personally, and that eventually the West might still have to deal with him if he remains head of state.

“Distasteful as it is,” he said, “that is the reality.”

Israel Retaliation?

Asked whether Bush’s suspension of hostilities would preclude retaliatory Israeli attacks on Iraq, Uriel Savir, Israel’s consul general in New York, said: “The only yardstick upon which we will act is the security and safety of Israel.”

Iraq has fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel since the Persian Gulf War began, killing two people and wounding about 230.

French leaders said Wednesday they would not allow their troops to go to Baghdad as part of a military expedition to overthrow the Iraqi leader despite growing support in France for the removal of Hussein from power.

“There is no question of going to Baghdad,” French President Francois Mitterrand said after he emerged from a meeting of government ministers. “The field of battle is Kuwait and the zone around Kuwait.”

However, support for the removal of Hussein grows stronger each day in the French press as it savors victory with very few casualties among the 13,000 French troops in the Gulf.

Writing in the influential French newspaper Le Monde, commentator Michel Tatu asked: “How can one imagine that the man who placed Kuwait in fire and blood and, doing this, placed his people and his army in the worst situation possible, can suddenly erase everything and retreat with his Praetorian guard into the Bunker of Baghdad and rule like nothing happened?”

Holding Hussein responsible “for the damage and the destruction that he’s imposed upon his neighbors” and making Iraq “pay reparations for the grief that they’ve brought upon such a large part of the world” are a “key part of our requirements,” Cheney told the Legionnaires.

The Pentagon chief said that over the next six to 12 months, as postwar security arrangements are put in place in the region, there will be “a continuing role for the United States.” But, he said, Bush “has made it clear that we are not interested in maintaining large ground forces in the region indefinitely.”

Gerstenzang reported from Washington and Williams from Amman, Jordan. Times staff writers William Tuohy in London, Rone Tempest in Paris, John J. Goldman and Stanley Meisler at the United Nations and Norman Kempster in Washington contributed to this report.

A HALT IN FIGHTING--WITH CONDITIONS

President Bush’s announcement that the allied forces would permanently halt combat operations against Iraq was dependent on what he called “requirements.” Among them:

* POWS. Iraq must release all coalition prisoners of war, hostages of third-country nations and the bodies of any allied war dead.

* U.N. RESOLUTIONS. Iraq must comply with all United Nations resolutions, including reparations to Kuwait. Iraq authorized its U.N. ambassador to tell the Security Council that Baghdad is prepared to accept all 12 U.N. resolutions.

* SCUDS. Iraqi forces cannot fire upon coalition troops or fire Scud missiles at any nations.

* MINES. Iraq must notify the allies about the location of sea and land mines.


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