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Allies and Iraqis Plan Talks Sunday on Cease-Fire, POWs : Diplomacy: The meeting of military commanders was delayed for one day. Cheney says the air war will be resumed if Baghdad makes new, hostile gestures.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Allied and Iraqi military commanders are expected to meet Sunday to discuss the terms of a cease-fire and prisoner exchange, the Pentagon said Friday, as Defense Secretary Dick Cheney warned that the air war will be resumed if Baghdad makes new, hostile gestures.

President Bush announced at midday Friday that the meeting would take place today, but it was later delayed for at least a day to give the two sides time “to work out some technical details,” Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams said.

The Pentagon said Iraq had requested the delay. A White House official said the postponement, until Sunday or possibly Monday, reflected logistic problems, rather than a “hitch” in the negotiations.

In his most expansive public comments since he halted six weeks of combat Thursday, Bush spoke sternly of the major challenges and problems that remain, including bringing war criminals to justice. The White House, meanwhile, said the President will address a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night.

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As for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Bush would not say that the United States is trying to “hunt him down.” But in response to a question about the Iraqi leader, Bush said that “nobody can be absolved from the responsibilities under international law on the war crimes.”

Hussein’s departure from power, Bush said, “certainly would facilitate the acceptance of Iraq back into the family of peace-loving nations.”

Projecting an aura of relief and even some optimism nearly two days after halting combat in the Gulf, Bush said he would try to use what he characterized as America’s enhanced international status to press for progress in solving the wide-ranging problems of the Middle East.

“We are going to move out in a leadership role,” he said at a news conference at the White House. “The conditions are now better than ever. . . . There is a better climate now and we’re going to test it and we’re going to probe. We’re going to try to lead to see whether we can do something.”

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Despite Jordan’s declarations of sympathy for Iraq during the war, Bush said, “We have no lasting pique with Jordan.”

Although the confrontation with President Hussein has been the overwhelming focus of the Administration for seven months, Bush said quietly that he has been slow to match “the wonderfully euphoric feeling that many of the American people feel.”

Bush’s Mood

“I’m beginning to. I feel much better than I did yesterday,” Bush said.

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But he said the circle is not closed.

“We have Saddam Hussein still there, the man that wreaked this havoc upon his neighbors. We have our prisoners still held. We have people unaccounted for,” the President said. “I’ll get there, but I just need a little more time to sort out in my mind how we--I--can say to the American people it’s over finally, the last ‘t’ is crossed, the last ‘i’ is dotted.”

“I’m not gloomy about it. I’m elated. But I just want to finish my part of the job,” he said.

A White House official said that the mood there was tempered by exhaustion. “For all of us, there’s the sort of tiredness that (just) a good night’s sleep can’t cure,” he said.

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And, he said, it was tempered by the deaths that had occurred as a result of the war. “The satisfaction is sober. It’s not elation.”

The President said in the news conference that the United States’ performance in the crisis will reduce the need to use force in the future.

“When we say something that is objectively correct, like ‘Don’t take over a neighbor or you’re going to bear some responsibility,’ people are going to listen,” he said. “Out of all this will be . . . a re-established credibility for the United States of America.”

The Meeting

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For Bush, the immediate focus remains on the release of the 13 allied prisoners of war, including nine Americans, and to receive an accounting of the 66 soldiers listed as missing in action, 45 of them Americans, as a first step toward a permanent cease-fire.

“This is an important step in securing the victory that our forces have achieved,” he said.

It will be one of the top items on the agenda, if Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, the American officer who led the 28-nation allied coalition, and Lt. Gen. Prince Khalid ibn Sultan, the Saudi general who led the Arab contingent, meet Sunday with their counterparts as expected.

Bush first said he would not disclose the site, for security reasons. But later he said it would be “on the border,” and British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said it would be near the southern Iraqi city of Basra.

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“I really believe we will get satisfaction. . . . They know that they must comply,” Bush said, adding bluntly: “They better comply.”

Cheney

Defense Secretary Cheney was more specific in his threats.

Asked on one of the five morning television shows on which he was interviewed Friday about how the United States would respond if Iraq engages in hostilities, Cheney said: “The results would likely be a resumption of military activity, probably from the air initially. There clearly are a number of additional targets we could strike in Iraq.

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“Right now, we hold a significant portion of Iraq,” Cheney said. “We have the ability to resume hostilities at a moment’s notice if the President gives the word for us to do so. We have, in effect, destroyed most of the Iraqi army. We have taken out most of the infrastructure. The lights are out in Baghdad. They’ll stay out until we get satisfaction on those basic points.

“I think we’ve reached the point where the Iraqis would do very well to listen very carefully to what we say and then do it,” Cheney added.

He said that he expects American prisoners of war to be turned over within “a matter of days.” Baghdad, by contrast, is not likely to see the return of all of its POWs in the allies’ hands.

“We have some Iraqi prisoners who don’t want to go back to Iraq as long as Saddam Hussein is there,” he said. “They fear for their lives if they return.”

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Hostages

Bush said the meeting of the military commanders would take up the question of “third-party nationals,” including the estimated thousands of Kuwaitis abducted by Iraqi troops fleeing the onslaught of the allied forces as the occupation of Kuwait ended. But he said he did not expect it to be resolved in one day.

“There will be--there must be--a full accounting, and so we are going to be watching very carefully to see if they are responsive to these concerns,” Bush said. “We just want compliance with the (U.N.) resolutions (on Kuwait) and compliance with human decency, and that is to release these prisoners and release these that have been kidnaped, and of course we want the perpetrators brought to justice.”

The President said that bringing Iraqi soldiers and Iraqi supporters in Kuwait to trial for war crimes is “a very complicated process.”

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But, referring to accounts of torture and murder under the Iraqi occupation, Bush said, “The reports are just sickening.”

He said those who actually committed “the tortures and insidious crimes” are the ones who should be held responsible, but “a lot of them obviously took off and fled out of Kuwait.”

Diplomacy

Projecting stepped-up diplomacy in the Middle East as efforts are made to address the region’s myriad problems, among them the future of Lebanon, the Palestinian question and “how Iraq is brought into the family of nations,” Bush said whether the next step “proves to be a peace conference or some bolder, new idea, time will tell.”

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The President said that “it’s not simply the restored credibility of the United States” that encourages him to press for progress in the region. “The British and the French and other coalition partners are very interested in moving forward,” he said. “So I sense a feeling of, ‘Look, the time is right, let’s get something done.’ ”

A White House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, ticked off other reasons for optimism:

“We’ve clearly defeated the strongest country in the region that was a force for instability,” the official said. He noted that during the war, Israel found itself on the same side as moderate Arab states; the United States and Soviet Union cooperated with each other, and the Palestinians found that their prime hope for salvation through the use of arms could do nothing for them.

“All these things add up to mean that you have some things to work with,” he said. “On the other side of the ledger, you have decades, if not centuries, of baggage and animosities. There are still real differences out there. Still some real obstacles.”

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The President left no question that he would refuse to help pay for the rebuilding of Iraq, if Hussein remains in power. And he insisted that Iraq repay Kuwait for the damage there.

“At this point, I don’t want to see one single dime of the United States taxpayers’ money go into the reconstruction of Iraq,” he said. “Now, you want to talk about helping a child, you want to talk about helping (fight) disease, something of that nature, of course the United States will step up and do what is human, that which we’ve always done.

“We’ll give them a little free advice: Use this enormous oil resource that you have, further develop your oil resources and other natural resources, live peacefully, and use that enormous money to reconstruct . . . and pay off these people that you have so badly damaged,” he said.

United Nations

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As Bush focused on the future of the region, and military officers turned to working out the details of a military disengagement, the U.N. Security Council worked to craft a comprehensive resolution covering the immediate aftermath of the war.

The United States and the Soviet Union agreed on conditions for a cease-fire, including language keeping the door open for the allies to resume fighting without a further vote of the Security Council.

The council was expected to vote today, so that the resolution could be delivered to Iraqi military officials Sunday, giving a U.N. veneer to the discussions between the two sides.

Some diplomats at the United Nations said the resolution would set the stage after Secretary of State James A. Baker III returns from his Mideast trip, which begins next week, for Security Council consideration of a more sweeping and definitive cease-fire resolution that would spell out the United Nations’ role in the peace process.

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Staff writers Melissa Healy, David Lauter and John M. Broder in Washington, and John J. Goldman and Stanley Meisler at the United Nations, contributed to this report.


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