An article yesterday inaccurately paraphrased CIA Director William H. Webster as saying that if war with Iraq breaks out, it would likely be a bloody, drawn-out conflict. Webster did not use those words. In response to a question during an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, Webster said: "I don't believe that the military assessments contemplate a quick buckle. You can't discount a quick buckle because it has happened in the past and could happen agin. But militarily, he (Iraqi President Saddam Hussein) is postured for a very tough defensive land position, so that much would depend on the effectiveness of an air assault capability on out part....They (the Iraqi forces) are dug in, pretty well dug in and shielded...There is, of course, the possibility that they will buckle under an experience they never had before." (Published 12/16/90)

U.S. intelligence experts have concluded that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein will not withdraw his troops from Kuwait until convinced he "is in peril of imminent military attack," CIA Director William H. Webster said yesterday.

Until then, Webster said, Saddam is expected to try to stretch out the Persian Gulf crisis, possibly by staging a partial pullout or some other move short of the U.N. demand for a full withdrawal by Jan. 15. The danger in this, Webster added, is that the Iraqi leader will continue to believe he can succeed "until the first shell is lobbed over him."

If war breaks out, Webster said in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Post, it would likely be a bloody, drawn-out conflict.

"I don't believe the military assessments contemplate a quick buckle," Webster said. Saddam "is positioned for a very tough, defensive land position so that much would depend on the effectiveness of an air assault . . . but we know they're pretty well dug-in and shielded." Saddam's strategy "is to defend Kuwait . . . with maximum intensity and to try to draw us into the desert where he can inflict an unacceptable number of casualties."

Meanwhile, President Bush expressed frustration yesterday at Iraq's refusal so far to see Secretary of State James A. Baker III before Jan. 12. He appealed to the Iraqi leader to set an earlier date for Baker's visit, suggesting that Saddam is attempting to manipulate the U.S. invitation for direct talks to gain time and political sympathy.

"We've offered 15 days, and he ought to get moving and do something reasonable if he really wants to move for peace," Bush said as he was departing the White House for a weekend at the presidential retreat at Camp David. But the president stopped short of issuing Saddam an ultimatum on the timing of the talks.

Webster disclosed that Iraqi military forces have a stockpile of roughly 1,000 tons of deadly chemical agents on hand, "much of it loaded . . . in almost every type of weapon." He said this stockpile included a "persistent" nerve agent, providing the first public confirmation of this Iraqi capability.

His mention of such a capability is significant because "persistent" nerve agents such as VX, a poison gas invented in World War II and stockpiled by the United States, can contaminate a battlefield for days or weeks depending on weather conditions. U.S. officials have previously said publicly that Iraq had only "nonpersistent" nerve agents that evaporate or decompose within hours or days.

Persistent nerve agents pose special hazards on the battlefield, because absorption of even a minute quantity through the skin can cause death within minutes. As a result, U.S. soldiers must wear awkward bodysuits to obtain complete protection. The two known Iraqi nonpersistent nerve agents, Tabun and Sarin, kill primarily through inhalation and can be blocked largely through the use of gas masks alone.

Webster also said for the first time yesterday that some of the Iraqi poison gas has been moved into Kuwait and that U.S. analysts now believe it can be deployed on warheads capable of being carried atop Iraqi long-range missiles as well as shorter-range weapons.

U.S. officials explained later that Webster specifically meant chemical warheads have been fitted atop Iraqi Frog missiles capable of flying 40 to 50 miles from launch sites inside Kuwait, within easy reach of any attacking U.S. and allied forces. Poison gas warheads also have been fitted atop Scud-B missiles, which are capable of flying 180 miles from sites in southern Iraq, and could be placed atop other Iraqi missiles capable of flying between 350 and 500 miles, the officials said.

Webster expressed satisfaction with U.S. intelligence-gathering on the crisis so far. But he said forecasting what will happen remains very difficult because of Saddam's unpredictability.

"In this particular crisis," Webster said, "so much seems to reside in the head of one man." He said Saddam is "not getting very much advice from anyone or taking much advice from anybody. He has CNN {Cable News Network}, he has the newspapers, he has what people are sending him to read, but he has no one there to say, 'Hey, look. . . . ' "

Webster said he is hopeful that the new Iraqi defense minister, Maj. Gen. Saadi Tuma Abbas, 51, a combat veteran of the war with Iran, may be able to warn Saddam what he is up against. But at this point, the CIA director suggested, the Iraqi leader is taking the crisis day by day and probably does not know himself "what his decision is going to be."

Sporting a red-faced watch decorated with hammer and sickle and the Russian characters for "Perestroika" -- a gift from a State Department official who Webster said got it in Moscow -- the CIA director made these other points: Despite talk of an Arab diplomatic solution to the gulf crisis, a goal being pressed by Jordan, Algeria and others, "there have been no deals cut and there are no deals being talked about."

Israeli officials want the United States "to keep in mind their vulnerabilities," such as the danger of a Scud missile attack on major population centers. "What's really on their mind," Webster said of the Israelis, "is that Saddam Hussein may try to redefine the conflict by drawing them in in some way." While reluctant to talk about any discussions with the Israeli government, Webster added that Israel cannot be expected "to sit there and take a gas attack, in my opinion."

Preliminary reports from hostages who were held in Kuwait show "not a lot of respect for Iraqi soldiers . . . a kind of sense . . . that these soldiers don't want to fight." But Iraq has sent many reservists and inexperienced troops to the front, Webster noted. He said U.S. intelligence experts have a higher regard for "key units" that are being held back as reinforcements.

Saddam would be more likely to fight "if he thought our end goal was his destruction." In an effort to ease this concern, the Bush administration has recently said that if Saddam withdraws from Kuwait, the United States will not attack Iraq.

The Iraqi leader may have been encouraged to play a waiting game by the debate on Capitol Hill whether to go to war or give economic sanctions more time to work, as well as by President Bush's offer of high-level meetings. While the offer was made "to demonstrate our seriousness," Webster said, Saddam may view it "from his prism, as an offer to negotiate."

On Nov. 30, Bush said he would send Baker to Baghdad for talks with Saddam and invited Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to meet him in Washington before then. He suggested that the Aziz visit occur this week and that Baker's trip fall between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15.

The Iraqis then proposed that Aziz go to Washington Dec. 17, and the administration offered a window between Dec. 20 and Jan. 3 for Baker's trip to Baghdad. The Iraqis countered by offering Jan. 12 for Baker's visit. The administration does not want to go ahead with the Aziz meeting until there is agreement on the timing of Baker's trip.

"Saddam Hussein is not too busy to see on short notice Kurt Waldheim, Willy Brandt, Muhammad Ali, Ted Heath, John Connally, Ramsey Clark and many, many others . . . ," Bush said yesterday, referring to recent visits to Baghdad by international celebrities, "and it simply is not credible that he cannot over a two-week period make a couple of hours available for the secretary of state on an issue of this importance, unless, of course, he is seeking to circumvent the United Nations deadline."

The president expressed some regret that he had not given Iraq a shorter timetable for the talks from the start, saying, "I wish now that I'd been a little more explicit in my first announcement on what I meant by mutually convenient dates. But I was not then and am not now prepared to have this man manipulate the purpose of the secretary of state's visit."

A senior official said the U.S. is under no pressure from either Arab or European allies to prevent the talks from falling through. "Most of them would prefer that they not come off," he said.

He said the allies are more concerned that the talks will be used to make concessions to Saddam, rather than to deliver a clear message that he must get out of Kuwait.

In other developments, the nation's top military commander said yesterday that U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region will not have full capability to launch an offensive against Iraqi forces for another one to two months.

"Our offensive capability is not where we would want it to be yet," Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the House Armed Services Committee.

Bush ordered an additional wave of troops to the gulf on Nov. 8 that will increase the U.S. presence in the Middle East from its current level of more than 260,000 troops to more than 430,000. Powell indicated that Bush could request even more troops be sent to the Middle East after the second wave of forces is in place.

Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney told the committee, "There's absolutely no evidence that he {Saddam} is prepared to withdraw his forces from Kuwait." Cheney told the committee that Saddam has moved even more forces into southern Iraq and Kuwait in recent days, bringing the total to more than 500,000 troops.

Staff writers Dan Balz, R. Jeffrey Smith and Molly Moore contributed to this report.