WASHINGTON -- Bush administration experts believe it will be next spring, at the earliest, before economic sanctions take such a toll on Iraq as to bring internal political pressure to bear on President Saddam Hussein to pull out of Kuwait.
This assessment, with the risks it carries for a gradual weakening of international resolve and U.S. public support for confronting Iraq, helps explain what U.S. and allied officials say is the need to increase the outside pressure on Mr. Hussein with a credible threat of military defeat.
The United States and its coalition partners are attempting to strengthen that threat this week with Secretary of State James A. Baker III's visits to Persian Gulf and European capitals to lay groundwork for possible military action, a planned call-up of reserve combat units and a bolstering of Arab forces with more Egyptian and Syrian troops.
Mr. Baker said in Saudi Arabia yesterday that the crisis had entered "a new phase" and "we have to put ourselves in a position where we would be able to exercise any options that might be available."
Economic sanctions are already taking a heavy toll on Iraq's economy, officials say, cutting off virtually all oil exports and most imports of food and industrial products, freezing assets abroad and hurting industrial production inside the country.
Costs of some commodities have gone up 800 percent.
Sanctions are also creating shortages of batteries, tires, plastics and ball-bearings and threaten to hamper plowing and planting with shortages of spare parts for tractors and other farm equipment.
But "in all likelihood, we won't see a serious impact as far as sanctions are concerned until next spring," said an official familiar with the experts' assessment. Political pressure resulting from the sanctions will come then "at the earliest," he said.
"That's about the right sort of time frame," a European diplomat said.
Another source, with access to intelligence community conclusions, said this impact probably wouldn't come for nine months to a year.
The Bush administration and its key allies have yet to say that they have given up on sanctions, although some Arab allies say that only the certainty of war will drive Iraq from Kuwait.
President Bush, while voicing increased impatience, repeated last week that he wanted to give the sanctions time to work.
So far, there is no tangible indication that Mr. Hussein is concerned about the stability of his regime. On the contrary, he may face a threat to his power if he suffers the humiliation of surrendering Kuwait.
But pressure for internal political change will build as sanctions take hold further, administration experts believe. For instance, shortages of chemicals used in water purification could lead to a rise in dysentery.
Right now, the CIA has noted what Director William H. Webster calls "encouraging" signs of discontent within the top ranks of Iraq's military, the most likely source of internal threat to Mr. Hussein.
Eventually, the sanctions will take hold to the point of "affecting the political situation" and Mr. Hussein's hold on power, an administration official said.