WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that Americans "must know how strongly I feel" about the siege of the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait and Iraq's manipulation of hostages, and said anew that time was dwindling for the peaceful solution he hopes for in the Persian Gulf.
He denied that his administration's heightened rhetoric against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was intended to prepare the American public for war, and he insisted that he intends to give U.N. economic sanctions more time to work.
But, he said, "the sand is running through the glass," adding later, "I don't think the status quo can go on forever and ever."
Again refusing to set a time limit for the combined pressure of economic sanctions and the U.S.-led military buildup to force Iraq to yield, Mr. Bush said, "My problem is, and the problem with those with whom I consult very closely is, we can't say how lTC much is enough in terms of the sanctions or how much time it would take."
Mr. Bush spent much of a news conference during a campaign trip to Orlando, Fla., explaining why he and other administration officials have sought to refocus public attention on Iraq this week.
The effort began Monday with a tough speech by Secretary of State James A. Baker III in Los Angeles and has continued daily, with the appearance at times that the administration didn't know how threatening its message should be.
To clear up confusion, Mr. Bush read a prepared restatement of his policy, insisting that Iraq's brutality against civilians, violations of international law and aggression against Kuwait "will not stand."
"I know I'm not overstating the feelings I have about it," the president said. "The reports coming out of Iraq just today cause even further concern, these reports of the way our innocent civilians are being treated. I think the American people are as outraged as I am about the treatment of the people in our embassy, for example, and I think it's important that they know my concerns on this subject."
The United States has decided for the time being to allow United Nations Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to use his "good offices" to press forward with the resupply of the U.S. and British embassies. The skeleton staff of U.S. diplomats still has several weeks of food left.
Mr. Bush declined to say what further steps he would take, although his repeated expressions of anger at the envoys' plight seem to be propelling toward some kind of action.
Another senior official said the various options being explored to resupply the embassy, including sending provisions in under a U.N. flag, all have negative aspects.
Mr. Bush also said State Department warnings already in effect discouraging U.S. citizens from traveling to Iraq would apply to family members who have been invited to see their loved ones over the holidays.
He called the offer by Iraq a "ploy," adding, "I think that people see it as a rather brutal toying with the emotions of families, frankly."
Mr. Hussein is also doing everything he can to divide the coalition arrayed against him, though so far without success, Mr. Bush said, by inviting notables from various countries to Iraq to take hostages home.
Earlier in the day, a senior official expressed concern that even though none of those who had gone to Iraq was dispatched by the U.S. government, their going might have left the impression that the United States and its allies were looking for a way out of the crisis.
While Mr. Bush has repeatedly expressed his distress and anger over the 110 hostages believed to be harbored as "human shields" at strategic locations, the senior official said, "I would steer you away" from the notion that the president would launch hostilities because of a specific case of hostage mistreatment.
"It's a very emotional issue, but [Mr. Bush] has also said that the hostages are not going to affect his policy," the official said. He acknowledged that in the case of Panama, U.S. citizens were used as a rationale for going in, and said they could be the rationale in this case as well.
"That's right -- but they are not the focus of the policy, they are a consequence," he said.
Mr. Bush, reacting to an impression left by his wife, Barbara, during a campaign stop in Omaha, Neb., earlier in the day that he would be prepared to meet face to face with Mr. Hussein, said that such a meeting could occur only after Iraq agreed to comply fully with U.N. resolutions and withdraw totally from Kuwait.
Meanwhile yesterday, the Pentagon announced that the aircraft carrier USS Midway and seven escort ships have arrived in the gulf region, boosting the number of carriers in the region to four and giving U.S. military commanders a larger arsenal of fighter jets, attack bombers and naval combatants.
Pentagon spokesman Bob Hall refused to say whether this signaled another stage in the buildup of U.S. forces, but Navy officials indicated that the carrier Independence is likely to be rotated back to the United States before Christmas.
The Midway carrier battle group joined the Independence in the northern Arabian Sea within the past several days, said Mr. Hall, noting that the carrier Saratoga remains in the Red Sea and the John F. Kennedy in the Mediterranean.
He also reported that Iraq recently removed about 300 armored vehicles from Kuwait while adding more artillery to the occupied territory but that the change -- though the largest in weeks -- "doesn't change their posture, which is primarily one of defense with the ability to go on the offensive quickly."
Iraq now has 2,200 armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles in Kuwait and southern Iraq, compared with 2,500 earlier this week, Mr. Hall said. The number of Iraqi artillery pieces in the area has risen from 1,700 to 2,200, while the Iraqi tank count remains at 3,500. About 430,000 Iraqi troops are still in and around Kuwait, the same as a month ago, he added.