Kuwait wants President Saddam Hussein to step down so war can be averted in neighboring Iraq, Kuwait's foreign minister said in comments reported Sunday.
Sheik Sabah Al Ahmed Al Sabah also said his country, which borders Iraq to the south, is "obliged" by U.N. resolutions to allow U.S. forces to launch military action from its territory if a decision is made to go to war.
Iraq's deputy prime minister Tariq Aziz, however, ruled out the possibility of going into exile.
"No, we will fight the Americans courageously and effectively. This is our homeland," he said in an interview with Britain's Channel 4 television. "We are not going to leave our homeland. We shall live in this homeland and we shall die in this homeland."
Aziz also acknowledged that Iraqi troops were being given chemical protection suits and drugs to fight off the effects of chemical weapons. But he insisted that was to protect from use of such weapons "by the other side."
Thousands of U.S. and British troops are being deployed to Kuwait and the Persian Gulf region ahead of a possible war to topple Saddam over claims Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction. Baghdad denies it has such weapons.
Sabah, quoted by the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, said he believes an American-led military strike on Iraq is "inevitable" but hopes that a change in regime could "spare Iraqi people the evil of a military attack."
"We hope he [Saddam] goes out to any country, [along with] those with him, so the problem ends and the entire world will be relieved," Sabah, who is also Kuwait's deputy prime minister, was quoted as saying.
Arab media outlets have been speculating that Mideast leaders are urging Saddam to step down and receive sanctuary in another country to prevent a new conflict breaking out and further destabilizing the already volatile region.
"As for allowing [U.S. troops] to [war] from our lands, I say Kuwait is obliged to do that by virtue of Security Council resolution 1441," Sabah said.
Resolution 1441 requires Iraq to disarm or face "serious consequences." Washington argues that no new U.N. approval is needed to launch an attack if Iraq is found in "material breach," though some Security Council members insist a second resolution is necessary.
Sabah pointed to a clause in the resolution that says every country that does not comply will be held responsible and punished.
Sabah said Kuwait, which was occupied by Saddam's forces for seven months until a U.S.-led coalition liberated it during the 1991 Gulf War, saw Iraq as being run by a regime "that does not think of how its people suffered because of it."
He said if Saddam's regime was ousted, Kuwait would resume ties with Iraq and reopen shared borders, while "Iraq would return to its people, and its relations with its neighbors would return to what they were."
Speaking of Kuwaiti national archives looted by Iraq that Baghdad claims it returned in October, Sabah said Iraq only returned "worthless papers." The archives return is a condition for lifting U.N.-imposed sanctions on Iraq.