WASHINGTON -- Despite a stalemate on peace talks with Iraq and a timetable for military action fast approaching, President Bush insisted yesterday that there would be "no compromise on anything" with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
"There's not going to be a compromise with this man," Mr. Bush told reporters during a brief return to Washington from his Camp David holiday. "That would be the worst signal to send to the people around the world that are together" in opposing Iraq's takeover of Kuwait.
The president also sought to play down reports that some of his military commanders in Saudi Arabia will be not be ready for war by Jan. 15, the deadline by which the United Nations has said Iraq must withdraw from Kuwait or face forcible ejection.
"The situation is exactly where I was told it would be at this point and just right," Mr. Bush said. "I'm very comfortable."
He did not dispute the assessment of Pentagon officials that newly arriving reinforcements should have more time for training and for acclimation to the desert but said it would be "useful if, from the president and others, there were fewer comments about readiness."
In Baghdad, Mr. Hussein told a gathering of Iraqi diplomats yesterday that he was "ready for a serious and constructive dialogue" to resolve the crisis, according to the state news agency. But U.S. officials reported no progress even toward setting a date for Secretary of State James A. Baker III to make an eleventh-hour peace mission to meet with Mr. Hussein.
Mr. Bush was asked whether there was room for compromise between Iraq's proposed date of Jan. 12 for a meeting and U.S. insistence that it take place no later than Jan. 3, when there would still be time for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait before the deadline.
"No compromise on anything," the president said, "because that's the problem -- everybody wants you to compromise."
He noted that Mr. Hussein "keeps saying that Kuwait is Province 19 of Iraq, and that flies in the face of the United Nations resolutions. I think everybody knows that, and therefore there's no willingness to talk peace."
Mr. Bush has become increasingly frustrated that Mr. Hussein does not appear to be taking seriously the threat of a U.S. military strike. He regards talk of compromise, of a lack of combat readiness or even of dissent at home as unhelpful because it undermines his effort to convince Mr. Hussein that the threat is real.
He chided reporters yesterday for "following rabbit trails running through the snow," saying too much was made of his meeting at Camp David on Monday with Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who reported to him on their recent trip to Saudi Arabia.
Mr. Bush returned to Washington for about six hours of what was described as routine paperwork and for a hastily scheduled meeting with Soviet Ambassador Alexander Bessmertnykh, who brought a message from Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The message contained "some very friendly words," Mr. Bush said, but he declined to give further details of his first communication from the Soviet president since the abrupt resignation last week of one of his chief lieutenants, Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
Mr. Bush said he and the Soviet ambassador discussed Mr. Gorbachev's efforts to hold the Soviet Union together as it struggles through political and economic transformation.
"Any time you move from a totalitarian, totally controlled state to an open state . . . you're bound to have problems. . . . But the main thing is there's a determination to keep going down this path of reform, and that's very important," Mr. Bush said.