WASHINGTON -- President Bush said yesterday that U.S. forces would remain in Iraq "as long it takes" to make sure the Kurdish refugees "are taken care of" and predicted that Iraqi troops would not interfere "because they don't want to tangle with the U.S. again."
Mr. Bush also observed that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's effort to make peace with the Kurdish rebels with an offer of limited autonomy would not dissuade the United States or its allies from treating him as an international pariah.
"There will not be normal relations with this man as long as I'm president of the United States, I'll guarantee you that," he declared.
But in a reflection of the competing political interests at work in the development of administration policy toward postwar Iraq, the president insisted that he did not want U.S. forces to become ensnared by an internal struggle that shows little sign of speedy resolution.
"I want these kids home, and so do the American people want themhome," Mr. Bush told reporters at an impromptu gathering after a White House tree-planting ceremony. "We want to help these Kurds . . . but I do not want to intervene and get our troops hauled in to some conflict that's been going on for years."
The president's remarks came one day after Iraq agreed to withdraw its military forces from a refugee camp area around the northern city of Zakho in response to a threat from the United States that it was prepared to drive them out by force.
Mr. Bush said he did not expect any further challenge from the Iraqi troops because "I don't think Saddam Hussein is dumb enough to want to . . . run into U.S. troops again" after the drubbing he took during the Persian Gulf war.
U.S. troops have been assigned by Mr. Bush to provide security for the relief effort that is attempting to rescue from disease and death hundreds of thousands of Kurds who fled Mr. Hussein's wrath at their rebellion immediately after the war.
The U.S. troops are "going to stay there as long as it takes to be sure these refugees are taken care of and not a minute longer," the president said, referring to plans for international organizations, including the United Nations, to take over the refugee camps now being constructed by U.S., British and French troops.
U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said yesterday that he thought the world body could take over operation of the allied camps in northern Iraq within days.
"We intend to take over as soon as possible," he told reporters outside the U.N. complex in New York. "We are working on it."
Meanwhile, the Kurdish rebel leader who won an "agreement in principle" during autonomy talks with Mr. Hussein in Baghdad this week said that all the hard bargaining still lay ahead, according to a report by the Associated Press.
"There has been no agreement yet, only the start of negotiations," Jalal Talabani, leader of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, said upon his return to rebel headquarters in Shaqlawa, Iraq, Thursday night.
The talks are scheduled to resume next week, when each side is to present detailed proposals in writing on its respective concepts of autonomy for the Kurds under the overall sovereignty of Iraq.
The rebel leader is seeking the accord to encourage the return of the Kurds, who fled to the Turkish and Iranian borders when Mr. Hussein's forces crushed the rebel offensive.
President Bush was pessimistic yesterday about the prospects for any long-term solution while Mr. Hussein remains in power.
"I don't know that there's going to be lasting peace in Iraq," he said.
He suggested that "one good way to end" the turmoil would be "to have somebody with a little more compassion as president of Iraq, but . . . let them worry about that."