WASHINGTON -- President Bush vowed yesterday that the United States will not spend "one single dime" to help rebuild war-torn Iraq, and made clear that he would support no deal that promised a safe haven for Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
Amid rumors, later denied, that Mr. Hussein might leave his country and seek asylum in Algeria if he could avoid prosecution for war crimes, Mr. Bush sternly held to his hard-line stance against the Iraqi leader and his government.
Aside from the possibility of humanitarian aid for Iraqi children or for emergency "health care" there, the president said bluntly, "I'll be honest with you: At this point I don't want to see one single dime of United States taxpayer money go into the reconstruction of Iraq."
Iraq, he said, could be a "wealthy" country if it had not spent so much money on military weaponry. All that the United States would now give, he said, was "a little free advice": Iraq should develop its enormous oil resources, live in peace and spend its oil earnings for postwar reconstruction and to "pay off these people" -- in Kuwait -- "that you have so badly damaged."
Regarding Mr. Hussein, the president said it would be "simply fallacious" to suggest that he would agree to any promise of immunity as part of a deal to get him out of Iraq. "I cannot wave a wand and absolve somebody from their responsibilities under international law," Mr. Bush said.
The president also said that the difficult process of identifying people responsible for war crimes in Kuwait -- some of which Mr. Bush called "just sickening" -- had begun. He warned, however, that the process could take a fairly long time. "We'll have to wait and see on that one," he remarked.
Pledging to "work very hard for peace, just as hard as I have in the prosecution of the war," Mr. Bush said there may yet be "some bolder new idea," going beyond a possible regional peace conference.
He did not elaborate, other than saying "very serious consultations" were beginning on regional peace arrangements. "The time is right," he said, "let's get something done. We're going to try to lead to see whether we can do something."
The president's comments, made at a news conference, came amid a round of military and diplomatic developments focused on the end of the six-week-old war.
At the Pentagon, Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Kelly reiterated that there was not yet a "formal cease-fire" and that there would not be one "until all coalition demands are met."
"The U.S. forces are in defensive positions, ready to resume the offensive if required," he said. If no word comes from Iraq on releasing prisoners of war, he said, the president would be faced with a new decision about military action.
At the United Nations, the Security Council moved toward development of what Mr. Bush called "the political aspects of ending the war," including a formal way to declare a truce, along with ways to hold Iraq to commitments to return prisoners of war and hostages and to pay for war damages, especially to Kuwait. U.S. diplomats there were pressing for Security Council endorsement of a continued ban on global sales of arms to Iraq -- at least as long as Mr. Hussein remains in power.
U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar, however, told a French television station that he was against continuation of U.N. sanctions if that was being done to force out Mr. Hussein. "As secretary-general," he said, "I cannot agree with measures that are aimed at overthrowing the government of a country which is a member of the United Nations. If the objective of pursuing sanctions is to topple the Iraqi regime, then I do not agree. I cannot agree."
In a variety of ways, it was becoming clearer that the United States and its allies would be pressing Arab members of the gulf coalition to assume the major share of postwar peacekeeping in the region, with a continued but limited U.S. military "presence," as Mr. Bush put it.
German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, after meeting the president at the White House yesterday, said they had agreed "that the initiative toward a peaceful order [has] to come from the region itself, that ideas and concepts have to be developed by the gulf countries, by Egypt and Syria, and that these countries will have to play a very important part in that process."
Although there has been criticism here of Germany's minor role in support of the gulf effort, Mr. Genscher said Mr. Bush had recognized his country's financial support, its contribution of "material" to the allied military and its permission for allied use of "German territories for logistical tasks."
The president himself refused to criticize the efforts of either Germany or Japan, saying that the Germans had met half their financial pledge and that the Japanese were ready to make a $9 billion payment to cover war costs.
Mr. Bush made these other points at his news conference:
* In disclosing tomorrow's planned meeting in the war zone of allied and Iraqi military commanders to arrange a formal end to the conflict, the president expressed confidence that Iraq would return all prisoners of war and that it would meet all other conditions of a cease-fire, but then he added firmly: "Put it this way: they better comply."
* He chided Jordan, a notable Mideast supporter of Iraq in the war, for failing to tell its people that Iraq had suffered a military defeat. "They have been denied the truth," he said.