Americans overwhelmingly approve of President Bush's decision to seek talks with Iraq but are sharply divided over whether those meetings will produce a peaceful end to the stalemate in the Persian Gulf, according to a Washington Post-ABC News Poll.
Most of those polled also doubt that the U.N. Security Council vote last week that authorized the use of force against Iraq will persuade Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to pull his country's troops out of Kuwait.
If Iraq does not leave Kuwait, a big majority -- 63 percent -- of those questioned would support going to war with Iraq "at some point after" the Jan. 15 deadline established by the United Nations for an Iraqi withdrawal.
Overall, the survey found that most Americans continue to favor a go-slow policy in the gulf. At the same time, the results suggest hopes for a peaceful conclusion to the crisis may be gradually fading.
Doubts about the effectiveness of economic sanctions against Iraq continue to grow, with two out of three persons questioned now saying that the embargo will not work. Perhaps as a result, more Americans than ever believe the United States and its allies are headed for war in the Middle East.
In recent weeks, President Bush has hinted that U.S. military action may be necessary because Iraq is close to building a crude atomic weapon. Two out of three persons questioned in the Post-ABC Poll believed that Iraq may soon have the bomb.
But among those who said Iraq would quickly have an atomic weapon, more than half -- 58 percent -- said Iraq's nuclear capability alone was insufficient reason to go to war.
Despite the public's growing belief that war may be inevitable, two out of three persons questioned said they approved of the United States sending troops to the Persian Gulf. And an equally large majority believes that the United States should take all action necessary, including the use of military force, to compel Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait.
The Post-ABC survey found that nine out of 10 persons questioned said they approved of Bush's decision to send Secretary of State James A. Baker III to Baghdad, and to invite the Iraqi foreign minister to come to Washington.
Yet just over half -- 53 percent -- of those questioned said they expected that those talks would fail to produce a diplomatic solution to the crisis, while 39 percent thought the talks might bring peace. The remainder did not know.
Still, Bush's call for meetings with Iraqi leaders clearly was welcomed by most Americans; even two out of three of those who expected talks with Iraq to fail acknowledged that the meetings would increase the chances of a diplomatic solution.
By more than 2 to 1, those questioned also doubted that the U.N. resolution approving the use of force against Iraq would cause Saddam to order his troops out of Kuwait by the Jan. 15 deadline. And 74 percent of those questioned said Congress should vote to endorse the resolution.
Many members of Congress have complained that Bush has failed to consult with congressional leaders on important aspects of gulf policy, a charge that the president denies. Public attitudes reflect this split. According to the poll, 45 percent of those questioned said Bush has been consulting enough with Congress and 47 percent disagreed.
Bush's recent moves appear to have stopped the erosion of public support that began following the budget deficit dispute in early October.
According to the most recent poll, 63 percent of those questioned approved of the job Bush is doing as president, up from 56 percent in mid-October but still well below the 76 percent approval rating he enjoyed immediately after he sent troops to the Middle East.
Blacks, women and older Americans continue to express the greatest doubts about Bush's gulf policy, with fewer than a third of all blacks interviewed expressing support for sending troops to Saudi Arabia.
The survey also suggests that Bush has yet to receive a major boost from Friday's surprise proposal for talks. According to the poll, 61 percent of those questioned said they approved of the way Bush has handled the crisis in the gulf, up insignificantly from 59 percent in a Post-ABC poll conducted three weeks ago.
A total of 758 randomly selected adults was interviewed Friday through Saturday for this poll. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus four percentage points.
Polling analyst Sharon Warden contributed to this report.
Q. Do you approve or disapprove of the way George Bush is handling the situation caused by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait?
Q. Do you agree or disagree that the United States should take all action necessary, including the use of military force, to make sure that Iraq withdraws its forces from Kuwait?
.............Dec. 2....Nov. 1....Oct. 14....Sept. 9.....Aug. 20
Disagree.....29........26 .......27 .........22 .........20
Don't know... 4........ 9........ 3.......... 3.......... 4
Q. As you may know, the United Nations Security Council has authorized the use of force against Iraq if it doesn't withdraw from Kuwait by January 15th. Do you approve or disapprove of that resolution?
Don't know........ 5
Q. Do you think the U.N. resolution will convince Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, or not?
Don't know..... 9
Q. If Iraq does not withdraw from Kuwait, should the United States go to war with Iraq to force it out of Kuwait at some point after January 15th, or not?
Don't know..... 5
Q. Bush has said he will send Secretary of state James Baker to Iraq and has invited the Iraqi foreign minister to Washington to discuss the Persian Gulf crisis. Do you approve or disapprove of those moves?
Don't know......... 3
Q. Do you think the visits of Baker to Iraq and the Iraqi foreign minister to Washington will produce a diplomatic solution to the Persian Gulf situation or no t?
Yes, will produce a diplomatic solution.......39%
No, will not produce a diplomatic solution....53
Don't know.................................... 8
Dec. 2 figures are based on a Washington Post-ABC News poll of 758 randomly sele cted adults 18 years of age and older nationwide conducted Nov. 30-Dec. 2. The S ept. 6-9 poll sample was 1,011; the Oct. 10-14 poll sample was 1,006; the Nov. 1 4-15 poll sample was 515. All three are Washington Post-ABC News polls. The Aug. 17-20 poll is based on an ABC News poll of 815 adults. Margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points for the Dec. 2 poll and range from plus or minus 3 to 4 percentage points for the other polls. Sampling error is however, only one of many potential sources or error in these or any other public opinion polls. Interviewing was conducted by the ICR Survey Research Group of Media, Pa ., and Chilton Research of Radnor, Pa.