WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III, looking beyond a conflict that will bring "great hardships," promised yesterday that Iraq would be included in postwar recovery and regional security efforts and hinted that it could be spared heavy reparations costs if it capitulated.
He also assured a nervous Iran that it would be a major player in the Persian Gulf region.
"No regional state should be excluded" from a network of strengthened security ties in the area, Mr. Baker said. "Postwar Iraq could have an important contribution to play. And so could Iran as a major power in the gulf."
He said that "no one should forget that for the second time in a decade the people of Iraq will be recovering from a disastrous conflict."
"The time of reconstruction and recovery should not be the occasion for vengeful actions against a nation forced to war by a dictator's ambition. The secure and prosperous future everyone hopes to see in the gulf must include Iraq," he said.
Giving Congress his first outline of plans to restore regional stability, Mr. Baker cautioned that "the war itself and the way it ends will greatly influence both the security of the gulf and the rest of the area."
"The deepest passions have been stirred. The military actions now under way necessarily involve many casualties, great hardships and growing fears for the future. So tough times lie ahead," he said.
Practically as he spoke, Iraq announced that it was cutting diplomatic relations with the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
U.S. officials were surprised only by the inclusion of France -- even though French forces are fighting Iraq -- because Saddam Hussein thus loses a useful propaganda outlet through his high-profile envoy in Paris.
Mr. Baker's testimony to the House Foreign Affairs Committee had two aims:
* It sought to assure members of Congress increasingly anxious about a bloody ground war that the outcome would be worth it in terms of regional stability and prevention of future wars.
* It also told restive Arab and Muslim populations that the United States had no claim to regional hegemony and was not out to destroy Iraq, but would work to improve the area's economy and promote peace among Israel, Arab states and the Palestinians.
Beyond these two audiences, the secretary also reinforced a message President Bush sent publicly the day before to Iraqis outside Mr. Hussein's inner circle, urging that they try to get rid of him.
Mr. Baker didn't say if the prospect of postwar assistance to Iraq applied whether Mr. Hussein remained in power or not, but his comments seemed to anticipate his departure.
His testimony about avoiding "vengeful actions" skirted the issue of reparations. The U.N. Security Council has held Iraq liable for damages in the Persian Gulf crisis.
Asked by Representative Stephen J. Solarz, D-N.Y., whether Iraq would be required to pay compensation, Mr. Baker said that the question "will in large part depend, of course, upon the manner in which termination of war occurs, whether it occurs in conjunction with a peace treaty or whether it occurs as a consequence of facts on the ground."
When Representative Tom Lantos, D-Calif., urged that all U.S. costs be borne by future Iraqi oil proceeds, Mr. Baker cautioned against enlarging U.S. war aims.
Mr. Baker's assurance to Iran came as Tehran has become a focus of diplomatic activity aimed at ending the war before ground battles get under way. One of Iran's purposes in offering to mediate, President Hashemi Rafsanjani has indicated, is to ensure his country's role in the region afterward.
Mr. Baker said the following areas would have to be addressed in the postwar period:
* Greater security for the Persian Gulf that would deter aggression, preserve territorial integrity and allow disputes to be resolved peacefully. He suggested the possibility of an Arab peacekeeping force under United Nations or Gulf Cooperation Council auspices.
* Regional arms control and non-proliferation, including both conventional arms and weapons of mass destruction.
* Economic reconstruction and recovery, with expanded free trade and growth-oriented policies.
* A search for Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian peace. He suggested that Arab states may be more willing now to help the peace process and negotiate with Israel.