President Bush continued the administration's harsh rhetoric against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yesterday, saying "I have had it" with Iraq's efforts to "starve out" the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait, but he also said he did not believe the nation was closer to war in the Persian Gulf.

The president condemned Iraqi treatment of American and other foreign hostages, saying he is increasingly concerned about reports from the region. But he said that "at this juncture" he is still giving the United Nations economic sanctions against Iraq time to work.

"The Kuwaiti embassy is being starved," Bush said. "The people out there are not being resupplied. The American flag is flying over the Kuwaiti embassy and our people inside are being starved by a brutal dictator. And do you think I'm concerned about it? You're darned right I am. And what I'm going to do about it -- let's just wait and see. Because I have had it with that kind of treatment of Americans . . . ."

Bush also sharply rejected speculation that the tough talk about the gulf by administration officials was designed to divert attention from his domestic political problems, condemning such suggestions as "the ultimate of cynicism and indecency."

A spokesman for the Iraqi foreign ministry in Baghdad rejected Bush's statement as "fabricating lies." He said on television that "all foreigners, including Americans, who are Iraq's guests receive full and good treatment concerning housing, food and medical care."

State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler yesterday expressed concern about the fate of four Americans who reportedly were taken from the Mansour-Melia Hotel in Baghdad on the night of Oct. 29 and are now presumed to be "human shields" at an undisclosed strategic site in Iraq.

Tutwiler also said that while some American hostages are receiving adequate food and housing, "others, according to returning Western hostages, are surrounded by filth and poorly fed." She said one American detainee has required hospitalization and "many others are sick."

Administration officials sought to play down the implications of Bush's latest statements, suggesting that a combination of events -- the end of the long budget fight, passage of a U.N. resolution calling for resupply of the embassy, Monday's tough speech by Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Baker's upcoming trip to the gulf, and fresh stories about conditions there from departed hostages -- had suddenly brought the gulf back to the top of the news.

"The president is interested in keeping the focus of the American people on the situation in the gulf," a senior administration official said. "That means refocusing after the budget debate. He wants to send a clear signal to Saddam and to the {world} coalition that we are staunch in our commitment."

Administration officials still hope to resolve the embassy issue without conflict, either through resupplying it or removing the diplomats and others holed up there. But they want to be prepared -- and they want the American people to be prepared -- if the Iraqis do not let either happen.

The administration is exploring options for carrying out a possible resupply mission, but no decisions have been made. "We are content right now to see whether or not the United Nations resolution can be carried out," Baker said on NBC News last night. "We hope very much that it will be carried out."

Iraq's envoy to Washington indicated Baghdad would not allow resupply of the embassy. "We have said time and again there is no reason for those embassies to be there," Ambassador Mohamed Mashat told a news conference yesterday.

Any U.S. effort to resupply the embassy would entail what some officials called a significant risk of military confrontation with Iraqi military units surrounding the seaside mission.

"I think that any attempt to resupply the embassy would involve shooting and there is a better than even chance that it might precipitate general war," one congressional intelligence expert said.

A senior administration official said that if Bush decides to resupply the mission, one course of action would be to send an unarmed American supply ship into Kuwait's harbor.

The ship would attempt to land supplies for the American and British embassies, which are located on the seaside corniche in downtown Kuwait City, even though they are surrounded by Iraqi military units. The two are the only Western embassies still manned in the Kuwaiti capital.

The official said that if Iraq opposed the landing, or opened fire on the humanitarian resupply operation, "then you would have what they used to call a casus belli," Latin for an event provoking war or used as a pretext for war.

The president's statements about the treatment of Americans appeared to reflect an evolution in administration thinking about the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City, which was sealed off by the Iraqis on Aug. 24. Power and water were shut off shortly after that, with the embassy subsisting on backup power and dwindling supplies of food and water ever since. U.S. officials have refused to specify how much longer the diplomats can hold out.

Administration policy at the time Iraqi troops surrounded the embassy was not to let it become a flashpoint for possible military conflict. Officials then anticipated that eventually the embassy would have to be surrendered, with the expectation that the remaining diplomats would be moved to Baghdad by the Iraqi troops.

But with the passage of a U.N. resolution Monday condemning Iraq for mistreating foreign hostages and demanding that embassies in Kuwait City be resupplied, administration officials have stepped up their rhetoric against the Iraqi president, while suggesting that they intended to try to bring in additional provisions.

"This is an area where Iraq has applied the most pressure and we want to maintain our mission so the issue of Kuwait will not drop off the screen," an administration official said in explaining the increased attention. "So far, Iraq has been getting away with its policy cost-free and this inserts a new cost for them."

Bush played a cat-and-mouse game with reporters yesterday on his intentions. Asked if the treatment of Americans could become the pretext for confrontation, he said no, that "you don't use pretext when you have force deployed . . . you just do what's right." He also reiterated that while protection of Americans remains an overriding objective, the hostage question will not drive the policy.

He said he was neither impatient nor did he believe time was running out for the sanctions to work. But he said he would view any effort by the Iraqis to block efforts to resupply the embassy in Kuwait "very seriously," adding that "it would not be good for me to signal what I might or might not do."

Bush was asked whether Baker, on his mission to the gulf beginning this weekend, would be asking for a green light to launch military action. He said Baker would be talking about "all alternatives" and twice repeated that "no stone will be unturned."

Baker's trip was a dominant topic of discussion at a high-level administration meeting Tuesday night at the White House. Bush and his closest national security advisers reviewed options and the likely course of events over the next several months.

Iraqi Ambassador Mashat said his country still hoped for a "negotiated" solution in the gulf. "We seek to avoid bloodshed," he told reporters.

Mashat also released a document that he said was seized from files of the Kuwaiti secret service. He said the document, describing a meeting between Director of Central Intelligence William H. Webster and Kuwaiti officials, showed Kuwait and the CIA had conspired to destabilize Iraq. The CIA said the document was false.

Bush, while repeating his hope for peace, said that "every time somebody sends an emissary" to the gulf, it gives Saddam "a little bit of hope that there might be some way he can stop short of doing what he must do -- get out of Kuwait unconditionally . . . . "

Staff writers Kent Jenkins Jr. and Patrick E. Tyler contributed to this report.