WASHINGTON -- The State Department denied yesterday the claim by independent presidential candidate Ross Perot that it had provided written instructions to the U.S. ambassador to Iraq for a meeting with Saddam Hussein on July 25, 1990, but the response did little to rebut general criticism that the administration failed to warn Mr. Hussein clearly against an attack on Kuwait.
The department released a cable sent to all U.S. ambassadors in the Middle East a day before the meeting that did not invite Mr. Hussein to seize the northern Kuwait oil fields, as Mr. Perot charged in heated exchange with Mr. Bush at Monday's concluding presidential debate.
However, while warning Iraq not to use force to resolve its dispute with Kuwait, the July 24, 1990, cable declared that the United States was taking "no position" on Baghdad's demand for access to oil fields there.
The administration's response to Mr. Perot and the newly released cable provided more insight into the series of vague signals and direct messages that flowed between the Bush administration and Hussein regime in the weeks before Iraq's Aug. 2, 1990, invasion of Kuwait.
The response indicated that Mr. Perot's accusation was at least partially unfounded. Mr. Perot charged that the administration provided Mr. Hussein with a green light to seize northern Kuwait and had refused to disclose written instructions sent to former U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie before her crucial meeting with Mr. Hussein.
The State Department said that its response to Mr. Perot was ordered by Acting Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger, who had spoken earlier in the day with Brent Scowcroft, the president's national security adviser.
The detailed reply represented a rare public explanation of zTC sensitive diplomatic cable traffic and a second unusual incursion by the department into campaign politics. Last week, Mr. Eagleburger took responsibility for a violation of regulations that occurred when political appointees expedited a search for Democratic candidate Bill Clinton's passport records.
Mr. Bush, who seemed surprised by Mr. Perot's allegations Monday night, encountered new questions about the affair yesterday.
The president insisted that "every single paper, including Secretary of State notes, which is unprecedented, was taken up by the United States Congress and looked at in detail."
It was apparent that the allegations found resonance among some undecided voters gathered for the TV appearance. The man who posed the question to Mr. Bush asked him "to respond to the allegations of 'Iraqgate' or the Glaspie papers."
"I hope that one is cleared up," Mr. Bush replied, "because you had congressional hearing after congressional hearing. And my position on Iraq is that we did try to make Saddam Hussein into somebody a little more sane."
Mr. Bush said that his White House chief of staff, former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, had explained the thrust of the policy to Mr. Perot after the debate.
Mr. Perot could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr. Scowcroft also insisted yesterday that Congress had been given access to all relevant documents in the Glaspie affair and that there had been no written instructions because she had not anticipated the meeting with Saddam Hussein.
He charged that Mr. Perot had "shot from the hip" and "doesn't know what he's talking about."
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that Mr. Eagleburger had decided to enter the fray to correct "several misstatements" by Mr. Perot.
"The United States has never, and I repeat, never told or in any way indicated to Saddam Hussein that Iraq could take the northern part of Kuwait," Mr. Boucher told reporters.
Ms. Glaspie was summoned to meet Mr. Hussein July 25, 1990. At the time, Iraq had 35,000 troops massed on its border with Kuwait and the Iraqi leader was threatening to use them to force Kuwait to settle a dispute over the border and oil pricing policy.
The day before, she and other American ambassadors in the region had received a cable from Mr. Baker, then the secretary of state, advising them how to respond to Hussein's threats.
"The U.S. is concerned about the hostile implications of recent Iraqi statements directed against Iraq's neighbors, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates," said Mr. Baker's message. "While we take no position on the border delineation issue raised by Iraq with respect to Kuwait . . . Iraqi statements suggest an intention to resolve outstanding disagreements by the use of force, an approach which is contrary to U.N.-charter principles."