BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND, OCT. 11 -- Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd has become Britain's point man on the Persian Gulf, not only articulating government policy in Parliament and on television screens, but forging and directing that policy for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher's government.

In Britain, the gulf has become "Mr. Hurd's crisis," according to the Financial Times.

Hurd's dominance as Thatcher's foreign-policy architect is in marked contrast to the situation in Washington, where President Bush has overshadowed a seemingly reticent Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

It is also a reversal of roles here for a prime minister who has long dominated foreign policy and treated the legendary mandarins of Britain's Foreign Office as obstacles rather than helpers. Hurd indeed is one of those mandarins, a professional diplomat who left the foreign office to enter politics in 1966, but whose dream was to serve one day as foreign secretary.

Tall, white-haired and deep-voiced, Hurd has shown professionalism, coolness under fire and a talent for articulating policy persuasively, analysts say. His ability to use those powers on Thatcher has been a key to his emergence as the prime maker of foreign policy.

Many of those skills were on display today when Hurd spoke before the annual conference of the Conservative Party here. This is a "red meat" gathering of the party faithful, who like to be roused and reassured by cheerleading affirmations of Thatcher's leadership and sweeping attacks on the opposition Labor Party.

Hurd gave them little of that. Instead, he concentrated on explaining in a careful but forthright manner the assumptions and logic behind Britain's gulf policy and his belief that it may still be possible to persuade Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to abandon Kuwait without the use of force.

From the beginning, Hurd has played the reluctant hawk. He has never ruled out the military option in the gulf -- indeed, Britain was the first Western power to join the United States in committing forces to the region. But he has insisted that the deployment of troops and the threat of force, coupled with economic sanctions and tough diplomacy, were the best means of persuading Saddam to withdraw. And he has stressed the need for collective action, helping to persuade Washington to take the time to recruit support in the United Nations, even when that process has seemed slow and unwieldy.

"Day by day," he told the delegates, "we must build in the minds of the Iraqis the certainty -- not the chance, not the possibility, not even the probability -- that they have to leave Kuwait. If they leave peacefully, so much the better. If it needs force, so be it."

Hurd told reporters later that if Saddam did not withdraw within the next few weeks, Western and moderate Arab leaders would have to "take stock" and decide what to do next. But he denied he was setting a deadline for war. "Once he's convinced he has to go one way or the other, he may decide it's better to go with his skin still intact," said Hurd.

Hurd also has been in the forefront in pressing the British view that Israel's military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip is a major obstacle to Middle East stability and the next issue on the agenda after the gulf crisis ends.

Last week, several days before Israeli police shot dead 19 Palestinians in Jerusalem, Hurd said in a speech: "Anyone with a sense of humanity must sympathize with the Palestinians . . . {who} are daily victims of a misguided policy which believes that the security of Israel must rest on closed universities, illegitimate settlements and even collective punishments."

Since the shooting, Britain has pressed for the United States to consent not only to a strong U.N. resolution condemning the Israeli action, but also to allow some kind of temporary U.N. mission to the territories. Hurd's goal, diplomats here say, is to preserve the coalition against Saddam.

Hurd has insisted that Saddam's withdrawal from Kuwait and the reestablishment of its sovereignty are not negotiable. Yet he gave support today to former prime minister Edward Heath's plan to fly to Baghdad to meet with Saddam over the weekend and plead for the release of hostages. It would be a strictly "humanitarian" mission, said both Heath and Hurd -- yet some observers expect Heath to try to drive home Hurd's message to Saddam.

A year ago, Hurd's political career seemed to be winding down. He reportedly told Thatcher he was ready to leave his office as home affairs secretary -- the cabinet minister in charge of police, immigration and other law-and-order matters. Then came a cabinet crisis and his sudden accession as foreign secretary.

Some analysts now see Hurd, who is 60, as Thatcher's logical heir. "If she falls or is pushed under a bus tomorrow, he's the one the party would turn to," said pollster Robert Worcester. Hurd dismisses such speculation as nonsense. He's too old, he has told interviewers, Thatcher isn't leaving any time soon, and the party will rightly turn to someone younger when she does go. But if disaster struck in the form of electoral defeat next year or 1992 and Thatcher were was forced to resign, many believe Hurd would emerge as the ideal compromise candidate in a badly divided party

Much depends on the gulf -- and analysts such as Worcester are not so sure the results will be politically favorable. If Saddam loses, they reason, most of the credit will go to Bush. If Saddam wins, or if the result is bloody and protracted, Britain will be tarred with the same brush of defeat as the United States.

Meanwhile, however, Hurd looks like, as one British newspaper put it, "a prime minister in waiting."