WASHINGTON -- President Bush declared yesterday that he has "had it" with the mistreatment of U.S. Embassy personnel in occupied Kuwait and warned Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein against interfering with efforts to resupply them with food and water.
But the president stopped short of threatening military action and said that, while he was "increasingly concerned" about the lives of Americans trapped in Iraq and Kuwait, he did not think the United States was moving closer to war.
In fact, White House and Pentagon officials say U.S. forces in the gulf are still being assembled and may be weeks away from the point at which their commanders consider them ready for war.
Mr. Bush's comments yesterday were described by aides as reflecting no more than a continuing hardening of his views, based on reports of the deteriorating condition of the U.S. hostages as well as Iraqi intransigence.
"The American flag is flying over the Kuwait embassy, and our people inside are being starved by a brutal dictator," Mr. Bush said during one of two lengthy exchanges with reporters. "What I am going to do about it? Let's just wait and see -- because I have had it with that kind of treatment of Americans."
The United States is determined to keep its embassy in Kuwait open, both as a symbolic gesture and to serve as a link for the other Americans still trapped there, Mr. Bush explained.
The president said that he didn't know whether he could get new supplies to the embassy personnel without touching off a war but that he and his foreign policy advisers "are looking at every possibility."
In another news conference in Washington, Iraqi Ambassador Mohamed Sadiq al-Mashat said that the hostages were being taken care of and indicated that Iraq would not allow supplies to be shipped to the embassy in Kuwait.
"We have said time and time again there is no reason for those embassies to be there," Mr. al-Mashat said.
State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said later that "we intend at this point to work with the secretary-general" of the United Nations, Javier Perez de Cuellar, who has been instructed by the U.N. Security Council to try to arrange for resupply of the embassies in Kuwait.
If the Iraqis were to block a U.N.-sanctioned resupply effort, Mr. Bush hinted that the United States could consider that significant provocation for a military response. But he added, "It would not be good for me to signal what I might or might not do."
Despite his heightened rhetoric over the past few days, Mr. Bush sought to quell the impression gleaned by some members of Congress who met with him Tuesday that he is growing impatient with his lack of progress.
"I'm not impatient, no," the president insisted. "Just going steadily, doing my job."
At the same time, Mr. Bush indicated that he was deeply offended at the suggestion that his administration has been fanning war talk in the final week before the midterm elections as a way of diverting attention from Mr. Bush's role in the recently passed deficit-cutting plan that raises billions of dollars in taxes.
"I don't think even the most cynical would ever suggest that a president would play politics with the lives of American kids halfway around the world," he said.
Mr. Bush said he was still hopeful that the economic sanctions, which have isolated Iraq from the world market, would ultimately persuade Mr. Hussein to withdraw his forces.
Mr. Bush suggested that the sanctions might have a better chance of achieving their goal if the Soviets, French and Arab nations would stop raising Iraqi hopes of a negotiated solution by sending peace emissaries to Baghdad.
Ms. Tutwiler said that "we are beginning to see some signs of real shortages in Iraq" as a result of the sanctions, which have cost Iraq $2.5 billion a month in lost oil revenue at current $31-a-barrel prices.