If we and our United Nations partners can keep our patience and resolve, economic pressure and diplomacy should cause Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait without a war.

President Bush's policy -- that is, a massive military presence in the Gulf coupled with sustained economic and political pressure on Iraq by a broad coalition of countries -- should lead to that withdrawal, if given time to work.

We hear much talk about the early exercise of a military option. Any such temptation must be resisted. The president's strategy is working, and the embargo is beginning to bite. If we were to act precipitously, we might find ourselves alone in a hard and dirty war that could be won, but not quickly or without heavy casualties.

We are entering several weeks of Congressional recess. Common sense and the Constitution support Sen. Claiborne Pell's (D-R.I.) suggestion that a bipartisan Senate-House committee leadership group be established to consult with the president prior to any decision on offensive military action. Such consultation clearly will be necessary if support for current policy is to continue.

When current strategy succeeds and Iraq withdraws form Kuwait, what then? After Iraq leaves Kuwait, the world community cannot afford to tolerate Persian Gulf instability, Arab-Israeli conflict and tragedy in Lebanon continuing without apparent end until a new crisis arises. Instead, a fresh attempt should be made to resolve in the broadest possible context the many festering issues in the Middle East.

The current crisis has helped create conditions that favor such an attempt. For the first time, the United States and the Soviet Union are on the same side in a Middle East conflict. Moreover, the Soviets are restoring diplomatic relations with Israel. And the U.S.S.R.'s daunting domestic economic problems are driving it inexorably into cooperation with the West.

The crisis also has created remarkable consensus among the United States, the Soviet Union, Western Europe and moderate Arab and Moslem states that collaborative efforts can do more than block Iraq's near-term aggression. In addition, the crisis has helped restore the United Nations' promise as facilitator of multilateral diplomacy and the rule of law.

At the U.N. General Assembly earlier this month, President Bush promised post-crisis support for regional efforts "to build new arrangements for stability and for all the states and the peoples of the region to settle the conflicts that divide the Arabs from Israel." Timing will be critical in such an effort. Broad-scale negotiations cannot and should not begin until Iraq has made its withdrawal from Kuwait.

Nor can such an effort be a "made in America" or "made in the West" venture. It will require active participation in particular by the nations of the region. In negotiations to end Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, Arab states, acting individually or through the Arab League, must play a central role. Then, once Kuwait is liberated, a combined Arab-U.N. peacekeeping force could be deployed in Kuwait. The Gulf Corporation Council should be given new life and strong Western support.

Then, in a next phase, outside powers finally must agree to limit arms flows to the Middle East, with top priority being given to reducing risks from chemical, biological and other weapons of mass destruction.

The aftermath of the current crisis also must produce real progress in Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

That peacemaking can be helped by the breakup of old patterns in regional relations. Egypt again is playing a strong role in the Arab world. Syria, which is responding to U.S. leadership in the Gulf, should be pressed to forswear its role as a "confrontation state." Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf Arab states, in the wake of the current crisis, will owe the United States forbearance (if not active support) for Arab-Israeli peacemaking diplomacy. Palestinians and their leaders surely must now understand that their interests can be met only through direct diplomacy with Israel. Israel, in turn, must recognize that present or future crisis anywhere in the Middle East is de facto a threat to its security and that a wholehearted commitment to the peace process will be necessary to serve that security.

An international conference should be convened by the U.N. secretary general, to include all regional parties and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. This conference should consider both security in the Gulf and Arab-Israeli peacemaking.

Such an effort might succeed now when in the past it has not, because so much has changed. As related above, past Soviet efforts to isolate Israel have been replaced by the diplomatic discourse. The United States and Israel, once wary of Soviet troublemaking in such an international conference, no longer need hesitate on that basis. All but the most radical Arab states now recognize the need to find formulas for longer-term stability and mutual security in the region.

Out of the tragedy and agony of Kuwait's ordeal, a host of countries have come to see their common interest in resolving not only the Arab-Israeli struggle but also border disputes, regional security issues, the Lebanon civil war and the further necessity of economic development that will benefit the entire region.

If we don't do this now, we may not get the chance again.

The writer was secretary of state from 1977-1980.