RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — With the fading hope of a peaceful solution to the Persian Gulf crisis all but dashed by the failure of Wednesday's talks in Geneva, Secretary of State James A. Baker III is trying to find out if Washington's Arab allies will fight against Iraq if Israel is drawn into the conflict.
Baker began a round of consultations with Arab leaders Thursday in a late-night meeting with Saudi King Fahd. He meets today with leaders of the United Arab Emirates and the exiled government of Kuwait and will visit Egypt and Syria on Saturday.
A State Department official said that Baker and Fahd discussed when and how the international coalition will begin to use military force against Iraq if the occupation of Kuwait is not ended.
A senior Administration official aboard Baker's jetliner on the flight from Geneva to Riyadh said that Baker plans to have similar conversations with top Arab leaders at each stop.
But the most crucial issue may hinge on the longstanding Arab antagonism for Israel. It clearly would be awkward for Saudi Arabia and Syria to fight alongside Israel against another Arab state. Even Egypt--the only Arab government to sign a peace treaty with Israel--would find that awkward.
So far, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's government has adopted a low-profile stance that has avoided causing friction between the United States and its Arab allies.
But Iraqi Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz said Wednesday that if war breaks out, Iraq will "absolutely" attack Israel. Israeli officials have made it clear they would hit back if they are attacked.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was quoted this week by Egyptian newspapers as saying that if Israel joins the conflict, Egypt would have to reconsider its own position as part of the coalition opposing the Iraqi invasion.
Mubarak was quoted as saying that Iraqi missiles do not have sufficient range to reach Israel so the Jerusalem government can safely remain on the sidelines. But military experts dispute Mubarak's assessment and maintain that Iraq could launch a direct attack on Israel if it chose to do so.
The senior official aboard Baker's plane declined to comment on Mubarak's remarks until the secretary of state has had an opportunity to discuss the subject with the Egyptian leader.
But the official said the Arab reaction probably would depend on whether Israel was the victim of a clear and unprovoked attack.
Asked if the Arab response depends on the manner in which the Israelis become involved, the senior official replied, "Yes, it matters how."
Israel surely would respond to a direct attack from Iraq. But the Israeli government has indicated there are other provocations that might also draw Jerusalem into the conflict which could appear ambiguous to Arab eyes.
For instance, if Iraq moved offensive missiles into Jordan--a step that some experts believe would be necessary to bring them within range of Israeli targets--Israel would almost certainly act without waiting to absorb a first strike. Such a development might put heavy pressure on the U.S.-Arab alliance.
An Israeli preemptive strike at Iraq would probably be even more disruptive to the gulf coalition.
The senior official accompanying Baker said the secretary of state is asking Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and the exiled government of Kuwait to provide additional billions of dollars in financial support for the United States and other nations with military forces in the gulf.
Last September, the three oil-rich Arab governments pledged a combined total of $7.5 billion to support U.S. and allied military action through the end of 1990. The three governments also promised another $7.5 billion in financial support for countries like Egypt, Turkey and Jordan that have been hard-hit economically by the trade embargo against Iraq.
A State Department official said the Saudis agreed in principle to boost their contribution, but the exact figure was not decided upon. A Saudi official said, "We and our American friends will never disagree on burden sharing."
More generally, Baker will be working to keep the gulf coalition from disintegrating under the pressure of impending combat.
"This coalition takes constant care and feeding," Baker said. "There are questions that come up with respect to what happens in the event of alternative scenarios, what happens with respect to the commitment of forces under certain conditions. All of these things are matters that have to be discussed with our various coalition partners."
Diplomatic Efforts in the Persian Gulf
France French officials continued to press for renewed talks and said the United States could bring about Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait through the "very small gesture" of endorsing an international conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia The State Department warned Americans to defer non-essential travel to these Arab countries. The announcement followed a similar warning on travel in Pakistan
Israel The United Nations evacuated hundreds of personnel and their families.
Iraq In Baghdad, a front-page editorial by the ruling Baath Arab Socialist Party said President Bush has deluded himself and warned that "rivers of Americans' blood" will result from war. British and German diplomats left their embassies, and U.S. personnel prepared to leave Saturday.
Saudi Arabia Secretary of State James A. Baker III met with King Fahd in the first of a series of consultations to find out if Washington's Arab allies will fight against Iraq if Israel is drawn into the conflict.
New York U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar left on a last-ditch diplomatic mission to the Middle East to meet with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on Saturday.
Washington The White House urged all Americans, including journalists, to leave Iraq amid dimming hopes for peace. Congress began debating resolutions to authorize war; the vote was expected to be close but supportive of President Bush.