Simultaneously, as part of a verbal barrage designed to show Washington was in earnest, President Clinton's top advisers dropped heavy hints that if Iraq did provoke a war, the allies were ready this time to go all the way to Baghdad.
'I'm not going to go into details,' said the White House Chief of Staff, Leon Panetta, when asked whether Washington would now not be forced to send troops again if it had 'finished off Saddam' in the 1991 Gulf war, 'but I can tell you this: we're not going to make the mistakes of the past.'
From Jerusalem, Mr Christopher, who has added Kuwait to the itinerary of his Middle East visit as a symbol of Washington's commitment to the emirate's security, struck a similar note: 'Saddam's been thoughtless in the past, but it would be sheer madness this time.'
Last night Pentagon intelligence officials claimed to detect no sign that an attack was imminent. And diplomats in the region contested the US assessment that Iraq could be planning an invasion. But Mr Panetta said that the US was not sure why President Saddam had amassed an estimated 64,000 men, including elite units from the Republican Guard, so close to the border: 'It could be an invasion, it could be bluster, it could be just a threat.' But, he said, Washington had 'to assume the worst'.
The strengthening of US forces in the Gulf was in full swing last night. On the way from the Mediterranean, the aircraft carrier George Washington was due to enter the Red Sea, while 4,000 mechanised troops were on their way from the US to Kuwait, where they would join the 2,000 Marines aboard four ships in the northern Gulf.
The US Defense Secretary, William Perry, said the Pentagon was despatching a 'formidable force' of F-15s, F-16s and anti-tank A-10 Warthogs into the region, where the US and its allies already have 140 aircraft in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait itself. In addition, two warships, equipped with cruise missiles, are in range of Iraq, while the newly arrived US troops can draw on stockpiles of weapons, fuel and ammunition pre-positioned in and around Kuwait. The Pentagon said last night it was to start moving 18,000 Marines and thousands of additional army troops to the Gulf within days. Amid the bellicose talk, Mr Clinton returned to the White House from Camp David to consult advisers.
An unexplained element was the massing of thousands of unarmed civilians, who pitched tents on Iraq's side of the border yesterday to stage a sit-in protest. Britain's Ambassador to the United Nations, Sir David Hannay, said yesterday: 'Iraq is not the sort of country where demonstrations happen by mistake or happen spontaneously. They happen because the regime wants them to happen, and that is a dangerous place to start having a demonstration.'
Leading article, page 15
Robert Fisk, page 16