A story yesterday incorrectly reported an answer from an ABC News Poll on the gulf crisis. The survey found that 61 percent of those questioned said Iraq's release of the hostages was not a sign that Iraq was willing to withdraw its troops from Kuwait. (Published 12/12/90)

Two leading Democratic members of Congress expressed support yesterday for President Bush's threat to use force against Iraq in order to free Kuwait, but warned that he must get congressional authorization before ordering U.S. troops into action.

"I believe that the president is trying to use the threat of war to prevent war," Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) said, adding that Bush "does not need the approval of the Congress to threaten war."

"But he does need the approval of the Congress to make war," Mitchell continued in a speech prepared for delivery last night to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.

Rep. Les Aspin (D-Wis.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said only a credible threat of attack will secure concessions from Iraqi President Saddam Hussein "at the 11th hour and 59th minute."

Aspin said in a meeting with reporters that such a threat would only be effective if Bush decides he is prepared to initiate hostilities and obtains congressional approval to do so. "This is a situation where you want to telegraph your punch," Aspin said.

A new ABC News poll released yesterday suggests that most Americans believe the release of hostages by Iraq has reduced the chances of war in the Middle East. Still, more than half -- 61 percent -- believe the United States eventually will become involved in a war with Iraq. That is down from 75 percent in a Post-ABC News Poll last week.

Ilustrating the deep differences that exist even among Democrats over the best way of removing Saddam from Kuwait, Mitchell and Aspin took different positions on the effectiveness of economic sanctions.

The Senate leader cited testimony from CIA Director William H. Webster as evidence that sanctions have dealt "a serious blow" to Iraq's economy. "There is no guarantee that continuing sanctions will work," Mitchell said. "That's a risk. But there's also a risk in prematurely abandoning the sanctions and rushing to war."

Aspin implicitly sided with the administration's response to Mitchell and other Democrats who urge that the sanctions be kept in place for a year or more before any decision is made to resort to war.

He said testimony before his committee has convinced him that sanctions may reduce Saddam's ballistic missile capacity but "won't do diddly" to diminish his capacity to wage chemical warfare.

Echoing an administration argument, Aspin said a lengthy wait for sanctions to weaken Iraq's war-making capacity would likely erode the unity of the anti-Saddam coalition, produce "clashes and confrontations" between U.S. troops and their Saudi hosts, damage the economies of Turkey and Jordan, and force the issue into 1992 presidential politics.

According to the ABC poll, the percentage of Americans who believe the boycott will force Iraq out of Kuwait increased from 30 percent in last week's survey to 38 percent. But more than half -- 59 percent -- think sanctions alone will not be enough.

Mitchell will lead one of two congressional delegations that will fly to the Persian Gulf area later this week for on-the-scene briefings by U.S. military officials, sessions with servicemen from their home states and districts, and meetings with foreign leaders such as Saudi King Fahd and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

It will be the third visit to the area by legislators since congressional leaders and the White House reached agreement in late August to prevent individual or small group trips and instead have organized one large one each month.

A group of 18 House members, which leaves Wednesday, will be headed by the two top members of the House intelligence committee, Chairman Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Calif.) and Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), the ranking GOP member.

On Thursday, Mitchell and a group of seven senators will leave for the area. Joining Mitchell will be Sens. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Richard H. Bryan (D-Nev.), Bob Graham (D-Fla.), Herbert H. Kohl (D-Wis.), Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), Richard C. Shelby (D-Ala.) and Paul Simon (D-Ill.).

Both the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on the gulf this week. Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are scheduled to testify before the House committee Friday.

White House officials are working to deal both publicly and privately with the criticism of possible military action voiced in hearings last week by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The White House strategy, according to one senior official, involves "targeting individual senators and {House} members" for "one-on-one discussions" with the president and other senior officials to hear their concerns and discuss U.S. reasons for steps taken thus far. The targeted members are what one official called "the doubters," and the sessions are supposed to be "low-key and private."

On the political front, however, the administration appears to be taking quite a different tack with its critics.

In a speech to Republican governors yesterday, Vice President Quayle criticized Congress for evading the "burden of accountability" for U.S. military action in the Persian Gulf by holding hearings but refusing to return to Washington to vote on a resolution supporting the use of force.

"Congress has not even sworn in its new members, yet already it is playing politics," Quayle told a receptive audience in Pinehurst, N.C.

A senior administration official said the administration has made a "conscious decision to be pro-active in dealing with Congess" over the next two weeks because "it is a mistake to let these voices be out there without answering them."

The new ABC survey suggests that the decision to release hostages has not yet significantly reduced the country's willingness to go to war to force Iraq out of Kuwait.

According to the poll, 58 percent of the 514 adults questioned Sunday said they would support a war with Iraq at some point if Iraq did not withdraw from Kuwait by Jan. 15. In the previous survey, 63 percent favored such action.

Two out of three persons questioned said the United States should take all action necessary, including the use of military force, to make sure that Iraq withdraws its forces from Kuwait. That is unchanged from Post-ABC polls conducted in the past month.

More than eight out of 10 respondents said the United States should continue to insist that Iraq remove its forces from Kuwait. Six out of 10 said Iraq's decision to release the hostages is a sign that "Iraq is willing to pull out."

Washington Post staff writers David S. Broder, Ann Devroy, Gwen Ifill and Richard Morin contributed to this report.