While uncertain how the Persian Gulf crisis will end, administration officials have started thinking about how to deal with Iraq after its troops have been removed from Kuwait.

The officials caution that this planning effort is in a preliminary stage, and that the few scenarios discussed informally assume that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will agree to withdraw peacefully from Kuwait before Jan. 15, after which the U.N. Security Council has authorized use of force against Iraq.

Officials worry that even if Iraq pulls out of Kuwait, Saddam will retain his sizable arsenal of conventional and chemical arms and the potential for developing a nuclear weapons capability.

"One of the things that troubles us in the aftermath of a simple restoration of the status quo ante," Secretary of State James A. Baker III said Wednesday in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "is the risk to the region, indeed to the world, from the chemical and other weapons of mass destruction capabilities that Iraq either has or is developing."

To block Iraq from future military adventures and limit Saddam's ability to expand his arsenal, the State Department is beginning to explore what proliferation constraints might be imposed on Iraq and what new security arrangements might be structured for the Mideast region.

"I think we would certainly, certainly take some steps to deal with" containing Iraq's military power after the Kuwait crisis, national security adviser Brent Scowcroft said yesterday on CNN's "Newsmaker Saturday." "Exactly how we would do it, you know, I think would be in part a discussion among the permanent five {members} of the U.N. Security Council." Scowcroft said it is possible sanctions would be kept on Iraq.

A senior official involved in U.S. policy-making in the Middle East said that the idea of inducing Iraq to enter into some kind of arms limitation agreement has been discussed generally among U.S. officials who deal with the Middle East and in talks with governments cooperating with the United States in the multinational alliance organized against Iraq. He acknowledged, though, that when it comes to translating this idea into a concrete course of action, "we're still in the discussion rather than the planning stage."

"We know that whatever happens, we don't want to leave an Iraq that has an enormous military capability," he said. "We have to start looking at ways to get them to cut their conventional arms and to join in agreements limiting chemical weapons. We have to figure out how to get an effective nuclear nonproliferation agreement that will apply to Iraq."

But some members of Congress, along with many mid-level U.S. officials and Middle East experts outside government, say the administration has been remiss in not giving a higher priority to the problem of what one official termed "the world after Kuwait."

In addition to issues of arms control and nuclear proliferation, critics say, there is an urgent need to think about what happens if the confrontation in the gulf turns into a shooting war that causes extensive death and destruction in the region and leads to a long-term occupation of Iraq.

"I have seen no discussion of what the aftermath of a military operation is going to be," Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) told Baker at Wednesday's hearing. "Are we going to have to continue to station American forces in the area in order to bring some order out of chaos? Subject them to terrorism? To guerrilla warfare? What's the next step that follows on behind that military action?"

There are other largely unaddressed questions as well: How can Kuwait recover from the ravages of Iraqi occupation? If the outcome of the struggle causes Saddam to lose his grip on power, will Iraq be swept by internal instability and political radicalism that will extend to neighboring countries? Would elimination of Iraq's military power expose the region to new pressures and threats from such other radical, expansionist countries as Iran and Syria?

"My impression is that people in the government are aware that they could be confronting many of these problems before too much time passes," said William B. Quandt, a former director of Mideast affairs for the National Security Council staff now with the Brookings Institution. "But these questions are like categories or subheads that haven't been fleshed out. When you push for specifics about how the administration would deal with them, there's not much there.

"To some extent, that's understandable in an administration that keeps decision-making within a very small circle and doesn't cast its net very far in terms of seeking ideas from the bureaucracy," Quandt added. "Those who are in the loop are too tied up dealing with the immediate problems to think about the long term. And even if you had the time, it's hard to say what you would do because there are so many possibilities about what will happen."

Before Iraq sent its forces into Kuwait Aug. 2, State Department planners had been studying the possibility of stimulating arms control talks in the Middle East, as a way of lessening the region's military volatility and as a possible first step toward engaging Israel and its Arab adversaries in direct talks. That idea has been shelved, but some officials believe it could be revived as a framework for dealing not only with the security threats posed by Iraq but also with the military balance in the region.

For now, though, the administration remains focused on the short term. Officials point, for example, to a recent war-gaming exercise involving 35 senior officials from different government agencies who gathered at the State Department's Foreign Service Institute to stage simulations of several scenarios involving the gulf crisis.

"The orders were to concentrate on the immediate problem of getting Iraq to comply with demands to leave Kuwait rather than on long-range questions," one participant said. "And even then, I'm not sure that the results got any attention from anyone in authority at State or the Pentagon."