A final evacuation flight landed in Germany today carrying the U.S. ambassador to Kuwait and his staff, who survived a 110-day Iraqi siege of their embassy by living on tuna fish and drinking water from a swimming pool.
Ambassador Nathaniel Howell, his deputy chief of mission, Barbara Bodine, and three other American diplomats in Kuwait left their embassy early today and flew to Baghdad and then Frankfurt aboard a U.S.-chartered Iraqi Airways plane, which also carried 25 other Americans.
While Iraq was allowing the completion of a blanket hostage release announced one week ago, the White House and Baghdad exchanged angry accusations today over the dates of proposed high-level talks. But both stopped short of calling off the peace effort, which is seen as the last chance of averting war in the Persian Gulf.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Iraq had still not offered acceptable dates for the talks and did not seem to be taking the U.S. peace bid seriously.
In Baghdad, the Iraqi Foreign Ministry denounced Washington for rejecting its proposed date of Jan. 12 for Baker to visit Baghdad and accused it of suggesting the talks only as a cover for war.
In Frankfurt, Ambassador Howell, looking thinner from the ordeal and with his gray hair longer, told reporters that his staff left the embassy "with the flag flying."
"We're very happy to be here. We're delighted that Americans who wanted to leave did," he said.
Asked if the embassy staff had endured, as reported, a diet of tuna sandwiches, Howell deadpanned: "No, the bread ran out."
The 50-year-old diplomat declined to speak at length, explaining that "we haven't had electricity and water, hot water, at night for 110 days. So, we're going to take advantage of that."
The passengers were booked into a luxury hotel near the Frankfurt airport and are expected to fly home Friday.
A U.S. Embassy official in Baghdad said the compound in Kuwait was left unstaffed but open and that Iraqi authorities had pledged it would not be disturbed.
The departure of the American diplomats ended a four-month diplomatic standoff between the United States and Iraq. Washington had defied Iraqi orders to close the mission in August.
U.S. Embassy officials at the Baghdad airport said 94 people were on the flight to Frankfurt.
It was the final U.S.-chartered flight evacuating hostages, and was said to be the last chartered by any country.
Officials in Baghdad said all foreigners who missed the charter could leave later by regular flights or by ground transportation.