WASHINGTON -- Declaring that the U.S. commitment to peace in the Middle East did not end with the liberation of Kuwait, President Bush announced last night his intention to help resolve the long-standing Arab-Israeli dispute as well as the tension in Lebanon.
While reporting to Congress that the first of the U.S. forces involved in the Persian Gulf war would begin returning today, Mr. Bush also announced that U.S. air and ground forces would continue to take part in joint military exercises in the region.
"The quest for solutions to the problems in Lebanon, in the Arab-Israeli dispute and in the gulf must go forward with new vigor and determination," he said. "No one will work harder for a stable peace in the region than we will."
In a triumphant appearance before a joint session of Congress marked by bipartisan flag-waving and frequent, thunderous applause, Mr. Bush also lavishly praised U.S. troops for their "first-class talent" and performance in the war that ended last week.
He became emotional for a time as he recounted the tale of an American soldier who sought to comfort the broken and terrified Iraqi soldiers during their surrender, and seemed to have trouble going on.
And at a moment when national surveys reveal him to be the most popular president in the five decades since polling began, Mr. Bush called upon the lawmakers to join him in moving forward aggressively on domestic issues -- choosing his transportation and crime bills as the fast-track priorities.
"If our forces can win a ground war in 100 hours, then surely the Congress can pass this legislation in 100 days," Mr. Bush taunted, in a clear attempt to transfer his wartime popularity to the domestic front.
Although a Democratic rush to support either measure as offered is considered unlikely, Democrats were definitely eager to share with Mr. Bush some of the national exuberance over the allied victory in the Persian Gulf.
In a sharp break with tradition, Democratic congressional leaders waived their option of a rebuttal following the president's address. Instead, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley, D-Wash., formally opened the session by offering Mr. Bush "our warmest congratulations on the brilliant victory of the Desert Storm Operation."
The standing ovation went on so long at that point that Mr. Bush -- clearly in the highest of spirits -- jokingly asked Mr. Foley for his gavel to bring the lawmakers to order.
The Democratic leaders had also made a special point of inviting the president to make his victory address to the American people in their hall. But White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Mr. Bush had approached them first with his desire to be there.
The focus of Mr. Bush's speech was on "the world after the war" in the Middle East and on problems Secretary of State James A. Baker III will be discussing with U.S. allies on an 11-day mission that begins this morning.
The president noted that there would be "no solely American answer" for these problems and that most of the burden for maintaining security in the region would have to be borne by the people who live there. He repeated an earlier promise that the United States would not permanently station ground forces on the Arabian peninsula, where they have been since August.
But for the first time, he revealed plans for U.S. ground forces to take part in joint exercises already planned for U.S. air and naval units in the region.
Mr. Bush said that "it should be plain to all" that the experience of Arab nations making common cause with Israel against the same enemy demonstrates that they can compromise and work together for a peaceful solution to the Arab-Israeli and Palestinian problems.
The president did not mention a peace conference to discuss the issue, which the Soviet Union and other nations have promoted and Israel has opposed. But he made clear that the United States no longer felt comfortable allowing the conflict to remain unattended.
Setting up a potential conflict with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir, Mr. Bush endorsed the principle of "territory for peace" and underscored the importance of "legitimate Palestinian political rights."
TTC Facing a group of lawmakers who, regardless of their individual positions on the war, have strongly supported U.S. forces in the gulf, Mr. Bush last night led the chorus of cheers for their actions.
"We hear so often about our young people in turmoil; how our children fall short; how our schools fail us; how American producers and American workers are second-class," he observed. "Well, don't you believe it. The America we saw in Desert Storm was first-class."
Here is the list of units sending troops home from the Persian Gulf early, as announced by the Pentagon last night. Each entry gives the name of the unit, the number of people being detached for the return and the destination. Detachments will be arriving tomorrow or Saturday.
* 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized), 763, Fort Stewart, Ga.
* 82nd Airborne Division, 900, Fort Bragg, N.C.
2nd Armored Division, 75, Garlstedt, Germany.
* 1st Infantry Division, 175, Fort Riley, Kan.
197th Separate Brigade (Mechanized), 137, Fort Benning, Ga.
* 5th Special Force Group, 386, Fort Campbell, Ky.
* 11th Air Defense Artillery, 300, Fort Bliss, Texas.
* 513th Military Intelligence, 100, Fort Monmouth, N.J.
* 1st Tactical Fighter Wing, 1,040, Langley Air Force Base.
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* Medical staffs of the hospital ships Mercy and Comfort and of Fleet Hospital 5, 1,742, bound for various destinations through Norfolk, Va., Travis Air Force Base, Calif., and Andrews Air Force Base.
* Brigade Service Support Group 7, Detachment Alpha, 200, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
* 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marines, 600, Kanohe Bay, Hawaii.
* Regimental Combat Team 7, Detachment Bravo, 750, Twentynine Palms, Calif.