WITH U.S. TROOPS IN SAUDI ARABIA, AUG. 31 -- The U.S. military's Middle East commander today said "there's not going to be any war unless the Iraqis attack."

Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of the U.S. Central Command, echoed President Bush's frequent assertions that the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf region that followed Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait is aimed at defending Saudi Arabia. Should Iraq try to test those defenses now, Schwarzkopf said, it would pay "a terrible price" for an attack, but he cautioned, "I'm not prepared to say with 100 percent assurance of any outcome at this time."

Schwarzkopf, a tough-talking, ruddy-faced former infantryman, met the press today for the first time since moving his headquarters four days ago from MacDill Air Force Base near Tampa, Fla., to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia's capital.

While dodging discussion of any details on the U.S. military operation here, Schwarzkopf didn't hesitate to label Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's military leaders "a bunch of thugs." And even though Schwarzkopf said he's been surprised that the massive movement of U.S. troops and equipment has gone so smoothly, "Murphy's {Law is} alive and well out there and there's been a lot of little problems." He refused to discuss any specific problems.

Asked how his men and women performing under the brutal Saudi sun, Schwartzkopf delivered a testimonial to the all-volunteer force: "They're not potted plants; they're not greenhouse shrubs. They're trained for this environment and they're very, very tough folks."

Schwarzkopf, on a helicopter tour of the region, charged through a huge dockside warehouse-turned-barracks for Army troops, chatted with A-10 attack plane maintenance crews and shook hands with Marines digging foxholes at a remote outpost.

When one Marine asked about the crash of an Air Force C-5A transport plane in West Germany earlier this week that killed 13 passengers and crew members, the four-star general declared, "That's 13 more counts against Saddam Hussein."

Schwarzkopf refused to discuss whether U.S. troops will conduct training exercises with live ammunition in Saudi Arabia. But one of his Marine Corps commanders told reporters the first live rounds will be fired at 6 a.m. Saturday.

U.S. and Saudi military leaders have been haggling over training ranges and methods since Operation Desert Shield began. The Saudis have raised concerns that live-fire exercises in a region unfamiliar to the American troops might be unsafe and could antagonize the Iraqis. American commanders have said the exercises are critical to maintaining military readiness.