President Bush will spend Thanksgiving with American GIs in Saudi Arabia, White House officials disclosed Friday. Meanwhile, Secretary of State James A. Baker III prepared for a crucial trip to shore up the international alliance against Iraq.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Bush will have Thanksgiving dinner with some of the 210,000 U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf as part of an eight-day trip to Europe and the Middle East beginning Nov. 16.France said Friday that Iraqi troops captured three French soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol along the Saudi-Iraqi border this week, but freed them later. Paris indicated the patrol may have blundered across the Iraqi border.
The three were turned over to the French Embassy in Baghdad, but Saddam Hussein's government still is holding thousands of Westerners trapped by its invasion of Kuwait on Aug. 2.
Baghdad has offered to allow Western hostage relatives to travel to Iraq for the holidays, and Iraqi officials reacted angrily Friday to U.S. and British efforts to discourage hostage families from accepting the offer.
The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said the United States and Britain ``have no respect for human values.' Information Minister Latif Jassim said these governments ``are totally inhumane.'
Iraq also allowed journalists to interview several American, Japanese and British hostages in an effort to dispel criticism of their treatment.
But the hostages were interviewed with Iraqi officials standing nearby, raising doubt about how candid the hostages were when they denied they are being mistreated.
Bush will travel to Saudi Arabia, with a stop in Egypt, after a trip to Paris for the Nov. 19-21 Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, Fitzwater said.
Bush will consult with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and the exiled emir of Kuwait, Fitzwater said.
Bush will stop first in Prague on Nov. 17 to help celebrate Czechoslovakia's turn to democracy, and will meet there with President Vaclav Havel. On Nov. 18, he will continue on to Ludwigshafen, Germany, to meet with Chancellor Helmut Kohl, before going to Paris for the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The announcement about Bush's trip came as the crisis in the Persian Gulf entered its fourth month, prompting new vows by the president to force Iraq to surrender Kuwait.
``Saddam Hussein must get out, and he must get out totally, and the legitimate rulers must be returned,' Bush told a Republican political rally in Ohio.
It also came on the eve of Baker's departure from Washington for a new round of consultations with U.S. allies amid mounting doubts about how solid the international community is in its opposition to Iraq.
Baker's mission involves talks with four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, the Soviet Union, China, Britain and France, as well as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, the main front-line countries in the military standoff with Iraq.
Baker revised his schedule Friday to add a meeting with President Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union, a leading advocate of negotiations to end the crisis over Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
For nearly a week, both Bush and Baker have raised the level of war rhetoric against Saddam, causing concern among allies both abroad and at home.
Bush toned down his rhetoric somewhat during his Ohio visit Friday. Praising the U.S. troops stationed in the Persian Gulf, the president said, ``I'll do my level best to bring every single one of them home without a shot being fired in anger.'
``But we will not stop short of our stated objectives,' he added. ``We are the United States of America. We are standing for principle. And that principle must prevail.'
Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, pointed out that the president originally ordered U.S. troops to the Middle East to deter an Iraqi attack against Saudi Arabia.
The president ``did not give our military people the mission of getting the Iraqis out of Kuwait,' Nunn added. The United Nations embargo was devised to do that, he said, and ``we ought to give the embargo a chance to work.'