KUWAIT CITY -- Secretary of State Colin Powell pledged Monday that "freedom will live and prosper in this part of the world" in spite of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whose forces were driven from Kuwait 10 years ago.
"Aggression will not stand," Powell said as he joined former President Bush and Norman Schwartzkopf, the U.S. commander in the Gulf War against Iraq, in honoring the 148 Americans killed in combat in the 1991 conflict.
They laid a wreath at the U.S. Embassy in tribute to the Americans who helped reverse Iraq's annexation of its smaller, oil-rich neighbor.
"The use of force was moral," Bush said under bright skies to an audience that included hundreds of U.S. troops who are on duty here to protect Kuwait from Iraqi threats.
The former president said he did not know if his son, President Bush, will send more troops here. But, he said, "the United States will never let Kuwait down."
Powell, who was chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, described the U.S. mission as one of combatting evil.
"We want the world to know our quarrel is not with the people of Iraq. It is with the regime in Baghdad," he said.
Powell's rhetorical campaign against Saddam was sweet music here. Kuwait, having felt the sting of Saddam, has kept its distance from Arab sentiments against U.N. sanctions against Baghdad.
"This was a guy who invaded a country that was not doing anything to him," Powell said Sunday as he condemned the Iraqi leader as a dictator who has been stripped of his "stings" by the Gulf War and world pressure in the years afterward.
Powell is trying to persuade the Arabs to maintain U.N. sanctions on Iraq, but is running into complaints the Iraqi people are suffering as a result of the economic restraints.
His arguments are that Saddam is at fault and that only about 20 percent of Iraq's oil revenue is used to help the Iraqi people.
From Kuwait, Powell took his case to Saudi Arabia with a visit to Syria later in the day his last stop in the region. He is likely to look into reports Syria is helping Iraq transport oil illegally.
In Syria, official newspapers Monday criticized what they called America's "double-standard" policy in the Middle East that on one hand sought to muster support for sanctions against Iraq and on the other backed Israeli policy toward Palestinians.
"Washington should play it fair. It should not side with Israeli aggressors on one hand, and play the part of supporter of U.N. resolutions against other nations on the other," the English-language Syria Times said in an editorial.
On Sunday, Powell had endorsed a Palestinian demand by urging Israel to lift an economic "siege" of the West Bank and Gaza as soon as possible.
The constraints, which include a ban on Palestinian workers going to their jobs in Israel and the withholding of tax revenues, do nothing to improve the security situation, Powell said after a two-hour meeting with Yasser Arafat at his headquarters.
Israel, in an effort to stem attacks on its soldiers and civilians, is using economic pressure as well as firepower. Peace talks have been shelved, and Powell said it will be a long time before they resume.
Before seeing Arafat, Powell met Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem but evidently was unable to persuade Israel's incoming prime minister to ease that pressure. Still, Powell said the Bush administration's commitment to Israeli security was "rock-hard."
Before landing in Kuwait, Powell said Israelis and Palestinians are in touch with each other on security issues. "Whether that will bear fruit, I don't know."
On peacemaking, he described Sharon and Arafat as leaders looking down a long hallway, with a settlement at the end. "They have the keys," Powell said.
But, he said, "it's going to take some time before they get back to negotiations."
In continued West Bank violence Sunday, a Palestinian motorist was shot dead by Israeli soldiers and two Israeli motorists were shot and wounded.
Powell, on the second day of a six-country, four-day trek, went from the West Bank to Jordan, where he discussed Middle East peace and U.N. sanctions against Iraqi sanctions with King Abdullah.
Jordanian leaders have "a clear understanding Iraq's program of weapons of mass destruction has to be dealt with," Powell said en route to Kuwait. "They are solidly in line with what the U.N. has been doing, so I had a receptive answer."
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