LONDON -- British officials said yesterday that they were willing to have postwar dealings with Saddam Hussein, "distasteful as it is."
A senior source close to Prime Minister John Major said: "He is the ruler of Iraq. That is the reality. He may have to be personally negotiated with."
The official pointed to the lack of organized opposition in Iraq and to Mr. Hussein's record of surviving previous major setbacks and suggested there was little hope that the Iraqi president would be toppled internally or quickly despite the military rout.
It would also be difficult, said the official, to bring the Iraqi leader to justice before a war crimes tribunal. Britain's Defense Ministry has established a special unit to collate evidence of atrocities and their perpetrators.
"We will pursue this to the end of the earth, but it's very difficult to get evidence and bring prosecutions," he said.
Even as the military mop-up operations continued against the Republican Guards and retreating Iraqi forces, the British were nTC focusing on what would be done after the crisis.
Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who told a parliamentary committee this week that it would be a "heck of a lot easier" to manage the peace if Mr. Hussein disappeared, was in Washington for talks on the postwar scenario with Secretary of State James A. Baker III.
The British, with strong historical ties to the Persian Gulf, are anxious that the format for regional stability should come from the Arabs and be guaranteed by Arab or Muslim forces.
The Egyptians, according to the official, had indicated willingness to be a major part of an pan-Arab force but would need to be financially reimbursed.
The Foreign Office here has presented ideas for regional stability to the Gulf Cooperation Council but has had little success in getting any positive response.
"There will be strong hostility to Western plans. We need to feed our ideas through the GCC so they come out as Arab plans," the senior official said.
"We have been prompting them, sending them papers. They have been very reluctant to get into that. Their view is, 'Let's get back into Kuwait and then think about it.'
"The Arab idea is not to have Western-based plans imposed on them."
Western troops, he said, should be withdrawn from the area as quickly as possible, with only a naval presence remaining. The withdrawal could take many months.