The drumbeats of war were sounding louder Wednesday. In Washington, President Bush said he has "had it" with cruelty to Americans held in Iraq.
In Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak warned that the Persian Gulf crisis "could explode at any time."
In London, the commander of British forces in the gulf warned that an attack against Iraq was increasingly likely. Air Chief Marshal Paddy Hine said a joint team culled from the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and Army is developing plans for military strikes.
"Saddam Hussein seems reluctant at the moment to accept the judgment of world opinion," he said. "It is looking increasingly unlikely that Saddam Hussein will withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait."
Iraq's ambassador to the United States, Mohammed al-Mashat, said Iraq sought to avoid bloodshed and repeated his country's offer to negotiate _ provided that other Middle East conflicts were included on the agenda.
Bush said his patience was wearing thin with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein over the 1,000 American hostages in Iraq and Kuwait. He charged that the diplomats in the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait "are being starved by a brutal dictator."
"Do you think I'm concerned about it? You're darn right I am," Bush said. "And what am I going to do about it? Let's just wait and see. Because I have had it with that kind of
treatment of Americans."
But the president stopped short of threatening military action and said that, while he is "increasingly concerned" about the lives of Americans trapped in Iraq and Kuwait, he does not think the United States is moving closer to a war in the Persian Gulf.
A spokesman for the Iraqi foreign ministry in Baghdad rejected Bush's statement as "fabricating lies." He said on television that "all foreigners, including Americans, who are Iraq's guests receive full and good treatment concerning housing, food and medical care."
Later Wednesday, an Information Ministry spokesman in Baghdad said the Iraqi government is prepared to allow families of Americans in Iraq to visit during the Christmas and New Year's holidays. No other details were available, and there was no immediate reaction from the State Department.
"It's probably just another psychological ploy," said Dawn Bazner, whose husband, Mark, early in the crisis was videotaped asking Saddam to let foreign women and children go. Speaking from Palm Desert, Calif., she said, "I'm hoping that we won't have to visit (Mark) there ... but if it comes down to it, I will go."
Egypt, along with Saudi Arabia, has led Arab opposition to Saddam. Speaking to reporters Wednesday in Cairo, Mubarak said he hoped "our brothers in Iraq will understand well that the situation is very dangerous and could explode at any time."
If war comes, "Iraq will be ruined, and (it) will harm all of us," Mubarak said.
Kuwait's ambassador to the United States added his voice to a growing chorus of war rhetoric Wednesday, saying nations that have deployed forces in the Persian Gulf could hardly be blamed if war broke out.
Speaking in Medford, Mass., Sheik Saud Nasir al-Sabah stopped short of saying that war was inevitable to force Iraqi occupiers from his country. But he said he thought there was no chance sanctions alone could accomplish this.
"I don't think you could blame the United States or other nations for opting for a military solution because the choice is his (Hussein's)," al-Sabah said.
The treatment of the diplomats has been one of the emotional points around which Bush's public approach to the crisis has turned _ along with the treatment of hostages held in Iraq and reports that Iraqi soldiers have brutalized Kuwaiti citizens in the occupied kingdom.
With each new report of mistreatment or deprivation of diplomats, hostages or Kuwaitis, Bush has angrily declared that he will not tolerate such behavior for long.
A few diplomats have held out at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, defying an Iraqi order to close missions in the annexed nation. Iraq has cut utilities and surrounded the compound with troops. The British Embassy also remains open.
"I'm simply trying to have the American people understand how strongly I feel about the brutality of Saddam Hussein's policy," Bush said Wednesday. "World opinion is saying: "He's got to stop it.' "
Asked how he would know when he has "reached the end" of his patience, Bush said: "We'll just have to wait and see."
At a news conference in Washington, Iraq's al-Mashat spoke of peace. "We once more call for a negotiated solution, to have a political and diplomatic solution. We seek to avoid bloodshed," he said.
He reiterated that Iraq was ready to begin negotiations on the crisis if issues such as Israel's occupation of the Gaza Strip and West Bank were included in the talks.
_ Information from the Association Press, Reuters and the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.