President Bush sent a message to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein just days before the invasion of Kuwait saying that the United States wanted better relations with Baghdad but was concerned about Saddam's threats to use force against his neighbors, according to administration sources.

The presidential message was drafted after U.S. Ambassador April Glaspie was summoned by Saddam to see him on short notice July 25 and after Washington officials received a report from Glaspie of her meeting.

The Bush message to Saddam may intensify the debate over the administration's policy toward Iraq before the invasion. The message, as described by sources, suggests that the White House was still sending mixed signals to Saddam even after Glaspie's report of their meeting.

The message was supposed to have been given to Saddam by Glaspie, but she did not see him again before the invasion. However, Glaspie took the message to Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, an administration source said. Glaspie left Iraq on personal leave just before the invasion.

In the July 25 session, Saddam lectured Glaspie about his complaints against Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates. According to an Iraqi transcript of the meeting that has been made public, Glaspie responded by saying the United States had no position on Iraq's border disputes with Kuwait. Glaspie said the United States wanted better relations with Iraq and gently inquired about an Iraqi troop buildup.

This meeting has fueled charges that Glaspie and the administration sent the wrong signal to Saddam on the eve of the invasion. Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III have acknowledged that U.S. policy was to try to work with Saddam, but they have branded as "ludicrous" the charge that the administration may have encouraged Saddam to think he could invade without a harsh reaction from the United States. Glaspie could not be reached for comment but has said previously that Saddam's invasion surprised many analysts and diplomats in the region.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) urged Baker at a hearing last week "to conduct a search and review of United States policy and actions preceding {Saddam} Hussein's aggression." Pell said the Senate had tried four times before the invasion to impose sanctions on Iraq "for its repeated violations of international law," but the Reagan and Bush administrations had successfully resisted these efforts "with no compensating improvement in Iraq's conduct." After the hearing, Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) submitted written questions to Baker about the accuracy of the Glaspie transcript and authorization for her statements.

According to administration sources, Glaspie immediately sent an account of her meeting with Saddam back to State Department officials in Washington. The Middle East Policy Survey, a newsletter that reported the Bush message this weekend, said Saddam had telephoned Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Glaspie's presence July 25 to assure Mubarak of Iraq's "peaceful intentions." The newsletter said Saddam was conducting an "elaborate ruse" to mislead U.S. officials and make them believe that he was willing to negotiate a peaceful settlement of his differences over oil and money with Kuwait.

Glaspie was summoned to the July 25 meeting with Saddam on such short notice, U.S. officials have said, that she did not have time to seek guidance from Washington. Nevertheless, Glaspie's performance has provoked debate among senior U.S. officials, some of whom believe she should not have taken the upbeat line she did with Saddam. Others say she was following administration policy even without specific instructions. In Washington at the time, there was an argument over how to deal with the Iraqi president; as late as July 31 the administration opposed economic sanctions against Iraq being sought in Congress.

Saddam, in the meeting with Glaspie, said he summoned her for "a message to President Bush." Glaspie noted during the discussion that she hoped to meet with Bush the following week and said, "I have a direct instruction from the president to seek better relations with Iraq."

One source said the White House, after receiving Glaspie's report, wrote a response to Saddam from Bush, which was transmitted through the State Department to the embassy in Baghdad on July 28. This was a day or two before news reports surfaced, quoting Western diplomats in the region, that Iraq had dramatically increased the number of its troops on the Kuwaiti border, up to about 100,000.

The source said this was a "presidential message," which had been drafted by the White House. The normal procedure with such messages for foreign leaders is that a cable conveying the message is often sent ahead, with a paper copy to follow. But in urgent cases, such as this one, the message was sent without a paper copy.

The exact wording of the Bush document could not be learned, but sources said it was a mixed message. Bush reiterated that the United States wanted better relations with Iraq. At the same time, however, the message said Bush believed "the use of force or the threat of using force was unacceptable," one source said. And the message said the United States would "support our other friends in the region," an apparent reference to other gulf states such as Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, the sources said.