A high-ranking member of the Iraqi Foreign Ministry told ABC News yesterday that Americans in Iraq and Kuwait are "restrictees" and would not be free to leave until the current crisis has ended.

The unidentified Iraqi official's comments in an interview with Ted Koppel in Baghdad echoed statements Monday in Paris by the Iraqi ambassador to France, who said Americans and some other foreigners would be prevented from leaving for the duration of the crisis. But State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler last night denied that the Iraqi government has described the situation of the Americans in those terms. "We've never heard that," she said.

Administration officials have insisted that Americans in Iraq and Kuwait are not hostages because the Iraqis have not put conditions on their release.

In his news conference yesterday, President Bush referred to the Americans as "inconvenienced people who want to get out." He said he was "troubled" by their plight, but said there were "encouraging statements" from the Iraqi "ambassador this morning that make me say, well . . .let's wait and see on that one." The ambassador, Mohamed Sadiq Mashat, said Americans would be allowed to leave "in due time."

Bush used similar language last week, emphasizing he was "encouraged" that Americans were apparently free to leave the two countries.

The indications yesterday were that, despite some leaks in the sealed borders, Iraq intended to keep all Americans and possibly other foreigners inside Iraq and Kuwait for the indefinite future.

"We're not getting permission for people to leave, but we're not hearing new formulations {such as those suggested in the ABC report}," a senior State Department official said last night. "But we are now being told there will be new regulations" issued by the Iraqis regarding exits.

A State Department official involved in the Persian Gulf effort said department estimates on Monday that as many as 500 Americans have been able to flee into Jordan or Saudi Arabia may have been substantially overstated. Department officials said then that they had revised their estimate on the number of private U.S. citizens in Kuwait from 3,000 to 2,500 and suggested the difference was the result of Americans successfully fleeing.

But it appeared the difference reflects more accurate counting procedures, not more escapes, the official said. Only about 30 of the 4,000 British citizens in Kuwait have been able to get out of Kuwait, a Foreign Office spokesman said in London yesterday.

The U.S. official said the actual number of Americans successfully fleeing was "probably closer" to the British figure.

In addition to the 2,500 U.S. private citizens in Kuwait, the State Department said there are another 120 American diplomats and their dependents in the country. An estimated 500 Americans are in Iraq.

Officials of U.S. companies with employees in the region said those able to get out did so in the early days of the Iraqi invasion and that the border is more heavily guarded now.

Few Americans have been able to leave in recent days, and U.S. officials, reacting to the shooting of a British businessman by an Iraqi soldier, have advised Americans not to try.

Asked about the possibility of Americans being caught in a possible military action, Bush said yesterday he was "never willing to sacrifice the life of any American" but he "didn't have {the} feeling" that Iraq was using the Americans as a shield. "When people are held against their will or delayed from leaving, it troubles me."

For some families of those being detained, the sense of worry has gradually heightened.

"It's been kind of growing . . .a little bit of fear and maybe anxiety," said the Rev. Edwin Davis of Koran, La., whose daughter, two grandchildren and Kuwait-born son-in-law were caught in the country by the Iraqi invasion. "If things break out there, they are doomed because of that guy {Iraqi President Saddam Hussein}," said the minister. ". . .I hope he does give up and say it was all a bad mistake."

Michael Saba, 48, an Illinois businessman who escaped from Baghdad last Wednesday by sharing a $100 taxi ride with a Northern Virginia executive, said the Americans who have managed to flee Kuwait and Iraq tended to be experienced, savvy Middle Eastern experts who were willing to take a risk.

"All the guys who got out had been in the area, knew the turf, had drivers who spoke the languages, and most of the guys who made it out had plans {to escape} in the back of our minds for sometime," said Saba, who has organized the Coming Home Committee to provide information to families of the 3,000 Americans believed to be trapped in the two countries.

By contrast, some of the Americans who remain there are relatively passive, he said. "Some of those guys are still sitting in their hotels getting drunk because they are so depressed," said Saba, who was caught in Baghdad planning a conference of U.S. and Arab businessmen at the time of the invasion of Kuwait. Another executive of a large American firm was vowing not to leave "until we absolutely know that the border is open," Saba said.

"Very honestly, after three or four days, most of us were concerned not over what the Iraqis would do, but what if we were hit in some bombing raid" by American forces, he said. "Either way, we'd get hit in the middle. The people in the streets would be so upset by the bombing that anybody looking Western would be in jeopardy."

Saba said that he and Samir Vincent, an executive with Phoenix International of McLean, each paid a cab driver $50 to drive them eight hours to a remote border area where they crossed into a no-man's land between Iraq and Jordan. The two hitchhiked for another 50 miles before crossing into Jordan, Saba said.

The border guards agreed to allow Vincent and Saba out because they had tourist visas and not the resident visas that require a special exit visa from Iraqi officials, Saba said.

Saba said he fled because he wanted to be with his wife, Irene, who is 8 1/2 months pregnant. He was careful to avoid any criticism of the State Department, but he said the families of the Americans in Iraq and Kuwait need more information and he hopes his committee can help funnel information to them. Staff writers Guy Gugliotta and Keith Kendrick contributed to this report.