WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration vowed yesterday to punish Saddam Hussein for Iraq's military thrust into the Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, and U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali suspended the recent agreement to allow Iraq to sell oil to raise cash for food and medicine.
On a day full of diplomatic contacts in which the Clinton administration kept all of its options open, there were indications last night that the United States had stepped up military activity even further in the region.
Among other things, one official said, the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and accompanying warships moved north in the Persian Gulf. The ships are capable of striking deep into Iraq with aircraft or missiles.
The suspension of the oil sales agreement was the first international response to Iraq's incursion north against the Kurds, whose enclave has been protected by the United States and its Western allies since 1991. In a statement, Boutros-Ghali said he had decided to suspend the sale because of "the deterioration of the situation in northern Iraq."
Although the United States and others encouraged the suspension to punish Iraq, Boutros-Ghali's spokeswoman, Sylvanna Foa, said the decision arose primarily out of concern about the security of the workers needed to monitor the sales.
At the same time, administration officials stepped up the tenor of their criticism of Hussein and heightened their threats of retaliation.
White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta said the United States would "respond accordingly" to Iraq's incursion. "I don't want to say when or where or what, but we will respond," he said yesterday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
The suspension of the oil sale and the administration's threats came as Iraq consolidated its control over Erbil, the main Kurdish city in the north, which Iraqi troops overran Saturday.
Despite an initial pledge to withdraw, officials in Washington said, Iraq appeared to expand its attack yesterday and shelled at least one other city. Iraq has allied itself with forces from the Kurdistan Democratic Party against its rival faction, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan.
In Baghdad yesterday, Iraq's defense minister, Lt. Gen. Sultan Hashim Ahmed, emerged from a Cabinet meeting and announced that Hussein had ordered Iraqi forces to withdraw from Erbil, Reuters news service reported.
Boutros-Ghali, in another statement, said Iraq's deputy prime minister, Tariq Aziz, conveyed the same message to him. But there were no immediate signs that was happening, and U.S. officials viewed the latest pledge skeptically.
President Clinton spoke with leaders of America's allies and other nations, including Prime Minister John Major of Britain and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, while the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, and Assistant Secretary of State Robert Pelletreau traveled to Saudi Arabia, senior administration officials said.
As the diplomatic cables churned, the officials said the administration had ruled out nothing, including a military strike.
Iraq appeared undaunted by the threats. A government newspaper in Baghdad yesterday warned the United States to stay out of the north.
"The Iraqi people, in the forefront Iraqi Kurds, are ready to provide an example that will inevitably remind the Americans of the Vietnam complex," it said in an editorial.
Pub Date: 9/02/96