WASHINGTON -- President Bush met with senior advisers last night to discuss the military and political strategies for the final push leading to the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, administration officials said yesterday.
"We are going to start to talk about what we are going to do," a senior administration official said. "This is the first time the whole team will be back together since Dec. 18 to compare notes and review the whole range of strategic issues."
The White House spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, said that the meeting was not prompted by any one development but that Mr. Bush wanted to review the situation and get updates from those who had just toured the gulf region, including Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, Vice President Dan Quayle and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Colin L. Powell. The talks ended after an hour and 20 minutes.
Also attending the dinner at the White House were Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Mr. Bush's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu.
Mr. Bush had scheduled a meeting with the same advisers for today, and it came as a surprise when he returned to Washington yesterday afternoon and summoned them.
The talks came amid speculation about efforts to resolve the crisis, although there is no firm indication that U.S.-Iraqi negotiations are taking place. But a peace initiative may emerge from a European Community meeting slated for Friday.
The senior official said the White House talks, which are expected to continue today, would focus on whether it would be useful to dispatch Mr. Baker on another tour of the gulf and Europe in the next week or two. He would seek to coordinate military and diplomatic policies and ensure that the alliance is firm.
The discussions will also involve how to deal with Iraq after the crisis is resolved, including how best to check its nuclear weapons potential, the official said. He noted that there is also the possibility of an allied military occupation of the country.
Also on the agenda will be how the administration can best consult with Congress, which begins its 102d session tomorrow, without restricting the administration's authority and options.
Mr. Cheney, Mr. Powell and Mr. Quayle were expected to sum up their trips to the Persian Gulf, giving their assessments of the readiness of the international force and the willingness of allies to grant further financial aid to the coalition effort.
The senior official said there was no reason at the moment to expect that Mr. Baker would meet with President Saddam Hussein if he tours the region. The official said the prospects for a Baker tour of the gulf were "good, but nothing firm has been decided." If it is decided to send Mr. Baker, an announcement will probably be made by Friday.
The official said the main objective of the trip would be "to hold the coalition together, to seek a peaceful solution, and if Saddam Hussein fails to accept the message that he must unconditionally leave Kuwait, we want to consider the use of force."
Mr. Baker would also take with him preliminary administration thoughts on Iraq's position in the Middle East after either a diplomatic or forced resolution of the crisis.
The administration and its allies have expressed the concern that even if Iraq were to withdraw peacefully from Kuwait, it would remain a potentially dangerous political power with some of the most sophisticated weapons in the Middle East.
Administration officials have said they realize that an occupation of a defeated Iraq would not only be costly but also could leave U.S. forces open to guerrilla attack.
"The main problem is that many Arab countries have indicated already that if we should cross the border into Iraq, that it would be a whole new ball game," the official said. "There have been indications that if there were fighting inside Iraq, there could be a rising up of emotions and public demonstrations all over the Arab world."