Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) played host to his annual Republican pep rally and fund-raiser at his Middleburg estate yesterday, telling 2,500 guests that the GOP's support for a strong national defense is paying off in the Persian Gulf.

Warner, who recently returned from an 11-day visit to the Middle East and Eastern Europe, told the partisan crowd that "the same tanks, rifles and ships that were purchased during the Reagan administration are now flying to defend freedom" in the U.S. confrontation with Iraq. "This crisis has stiffened our backs and our resolve."

For the 14th consecutive year, Warner opened up his hunt country estate, Atoka Farm, to Virginia's Republican faithful, serving his guests healthy portions of country music, barbecued chicken and political rhetoric. The event is a standard election-year stop for GOP candidates, but yesterday's event was tilted more toward international affairs than Old Dominion politics.

Warner himself is up for reelection in November, but has no Democratic opponent and is campaigning lightly. He made only passing mention of his race, focusing instead on his recent foreign trip, where he was part of a Senate delegation that met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Although he declined to discuss his meeting with Gorbachev in detail, Warner expressed confidence that the summit between Gorbachev and President Bush would yield a strong, united effort to contain Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf.

"The Soviets don't want to see the weapons they have sold Iraq inflicting American casualties," Warner said. "They have their own self-interest for feeling that way. They have their hands full just trying to meet the basic needs of their own people."

For the most part, the Atoka Farm gathering was a social occasion, a time for Republican Party activists to swap stories on a late summer afternoon. For his part, Warner was still chuckling over an incident that occurred while he was reviewing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia.

Warner was standing by a runway at a Saudi airport when a planeload of newly arrived soldiers began filing off. "One guy came over to me and said, 'Don't tell me I'm back in Virginia,' " Warner said, laughing. "He said, 'Senator, I came over here to meet the enemy, not you.' He was quite funny about it."

Del. Harry J. Parrish, whose district includes Manassas and western Prince William County, said he has not missed one of Warner's events in 10 years.

"Senator Warner has been gracious enough to have the Atoka Country Supper since back during the days he was married to a movie star," Parrish said, referring to actress Elizabeth Taylor. "It's nice of him to let everybody in here and walk on his grass."