Clinton presses on with Kuwait build-up

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UNCONVINCED by Iraq's promise to withdraw its forces from the border with Kuwait, President Bill Clinton early today ordered a massive new build-up of US air power in the Gulf, and told Saddam Hussein bluntly that sanctions would not be lifted until Baghdad complied with all relevant UN resolutions.

In a televised address from the Oval Office a stern-faced Mr Clinton gave no details of the extra air power, which will give the US a strike force of 350 planes in the area. But they are reported to include heavy B-52 bombers and F-117 stealth aircraft, both of which inflicted severe damage during the 1991 Gulf war.

'Saddam Hussein cannot be trusted,' Mr Clinton declared. 'We won't allow Iraq to defy the will of the US and the international community.' Despite the statements from senior Iraqi officials in both New York and Baghdad that Saddam Hussein was removing his estimated 80,000 troops from positions near the Kuwait border, there had been 'no evidence yet that Iraqi troops are in fact pulling back,' the President said. Earlier, the Penatagon said satellites had seen no evidence of Iraqi withdrawal. Some Pentagon officials said there were reports of additional force movements into the border zone.

Britain said yesterday it would send a battalion, a second warship and six more Tornado fighters to the Gulf. The first contingent of a 'Spearhead' battalion of about 600 men is due to leave for Kuwait today and the destroyer HMS Cardiff is on her way to join the frigate HMS Cornwall off Kuwait. The British battalion - 45 Commando, Royal Marines - was one of two units deployed to Kuwait in 1961 which helped to pre-empt an Iraqi invasion threatened by Abdul Qarim Qasim.

The US has 36,000 troops on their way to the region. A further 20,000 soldiers based in the US have been put on alert, making a total of 70,000 who are either in the Kuwait theatre, on their way, or ready to leave at a moment's notice. In addition, the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, carrying warplanes and cruise missiles, entered the Red Sea yesterday to move within striking range of Iraq.

The Defense Secretary, William Perry, refused to rule out a pre-emptive strike against Iraqi targets if the threat was not removed.

There is still much puzzlement in Washington over why President Saddam has chosen to provoke a crisis. It is mostly assumed to have been a desperate effort to loosen the UN sanctions blocking Iraqi oil exports. But analysts say the sabre-rattling has only set back his cause - most crucially with France and Russia, two permanent Security Council members who had been increasingly sympathetic to easing sanctions.

1990 revisited, page 13

Oil price rise, page 28