Iraq yesterday accepted President Bush's proposal for talks in Geneva on Wednesday between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, but the president later ruled out sending Baker on to Baghdad to meet with Saddam Hussein.

Asked if he were willing to allow Baker to go to Baghdad if that proved to be an option, Bush said, "no." The United States has "exhausted that option," Bush said. "We put forward 15 different dates, and I believe that the message that both Secretary Baker and I want to convey can be done" in the Aziz meeting.

Baker will be carrying a letter from Bush to Saddam that will contain the same message, administration officials said.

Many experts believe that a direct meeting with Saddam offered the only real chance for results, and that talks with Aziz were useful largely as a prelude to that.

The Bush administration on Thursday had left open the possibility that a Baker session with Aziz could lead to a Baghdad meeting with Saddam, with a variety of senior officials at both the State Department and White House indicating they expected such a session to materialize.

That was also a widespread impression in Congress, where several members praised Bush's Thursday offer to have Baker meet Aziz in Switzerland as the start of negotiations.

Bush's slamming of the door on a Baker-Saddam session after Geneva came on a day of generally gloomy assessments from the White House on the prospects for the discussions between Baker and Aziz.

The language of Baghdad's announcement yesterday offered one explanation for the pessimism: Aziz said he would continue to insist that other regional issues -- such as the Palestinian cause -- be part of the discussion and gave no hint Iraq is reconsidering its occupation of Kuwait.

At the same time, the European Community invited Aziz to talks on Thursday, the day after the Baker meeting, and pledged to act in sync with the United States in demanding complete Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

But the EC officials, meeting yesterday in an emergency session on the Persian Gulf crisis, offered Iraq a forum more open to discussing the Palestinian problem and other Middle East issues.

Bush yesterday reiterated his position that there "will be no linkage" between the Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait and other Middle East issues. "We can't tell anybody what he . . . can bring up at a discussion," Bush said of the Baker-Aziz session, "but there will be no linkage."

Yesterday's move by Bush to rule out a session with Saddam did not go down well with some members of Congress, who are back in Washington this week in a nervous, sometimes rebellious mood about the gulf crisis.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D-Wis.) said it would be a "bad mistake" to foreclose a meeting with the Iraqi president. The White House, he said, should be "creating opportunities" to talk to Saddam not ruling them out.

But the White House began early yesterday to try to dampen the impressions the session in Geneva could lead to further discussions in Baghdad, and the president was firm in his statements yesterday that he believes that option is out.

Pressed again on whether he might send some other U.S. emissary to meet with Saddam, Bush said, "I don't have anything of that nature in mind." The president said his original plan -- that Aziz come to the White House and meet with him and that Baker go to Baghdad and meet with Saddam -- "is off. And this meeting has replaced it."

Earlier, White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said, "We consider the interpretation {that the administration would entertain further talks} incorrect. We do not expect there to be any trips to Baghdad."

A senior official said Bush wanted to "make clear to Saddam that this is it." The president, the official said, fears that one negotiation leading to another negotiation merely delays things as Iraq runs up against the Jan. 15 deadline set by the United Nations for withdrawal from Kuwait.

Another official said Bush's decision to flatly rule out further meetings reflects Bush's "fear of getting jerked around" by Saddam. Within the administration there is a widespread expectation that between now and Jan. 15, Saddam will make some surprise offer that will muddy the situation: a partial withdrawal, an agreement to almost all the conditions, or something else short of meeting U.N. and U.S. demands.

Fitzwater said yesterday of the administration's mood, "We continue to be not very optimistic about Saddam Hussein's interest in pulling out" of Kuwait. The president himself was guarded in his reaction to Iraq's acceptance of his newest offer, describing it as "useful" but pointing out that many emissaries had met with Aziz and with Saddam with no progress.

Noting he was being "realistic," he cited the numerous sessions between Saddam and a variety of private citizens and foreign officials seeking Iraqi withdrawal. "And heretofore, the message has not been gotten," he said.

Bush repeated earlier comments that the talks will not be negotiating sessions and that their purpose will be solely to inform Iraq of the consequences of its failure to withdraw.

"I don't think he has gotten the message and the . . . the purpose here is that he . . . get the message," the president said. "There can be no compromise or negotiating on the objectives" of the U.N. resolutions calling for withdrawal.

Baker's mission, Bush said, "is to convey to Iraq the gravity of the situation and the determination of the international community" to see a complete withdrawal and restoration of the former Kuwaiti government.

Senior administration officials made clear as the New Year opened that their goal over the next 15 days would be to appear firm, steady and unruffled in the commitment to total Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.

Today, the president is expected to use a seven-minute radio address to restate his basic goals and his determination.

Bush is also meeting today at Camp David with U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar. White House officials said that no new initiative was in the offing.

Asked if the session with Perez de Cuellar offered some new hope for peaceful settlement, Bush said he did not want to "mislead" the American people or others around the world "growing increasingly concerned" about the gulf. The session, he said, was essentially to "compare notes" since Perez de Cuellar has been in touch with a variety of officials on the gulf crisis. "I don't have in mind any new initiative," Bush said.

White House officials said Bush and Perez de Cuellar will discuss the call yesterday by French President Francois Mitterrand for an additional U.N. Security Council meeting before the Jan. 15 deadline. Bush said he thought no such meeting was necessary before military force is used, but he said he would discuss it with other coalition members.

The president yesterday declined, as he has repeatedly, to answer "what-if" questions: what he might do if talks showed some, but not enough, progress, for example. "I'm not going to take any hypothetical questions on this because I don't want to show any deviation from the coalition's determination . . . " he said.

Bush said coalition members are "free to do whatever they want" but emphasized they remain united in the basic requirement that Iraq withdraw before any other step be taken.

Bush sidestepped a question about a French proposal that would link a withdrawal to a firm pledge by the coalition not to attack Iraq. He praised Mitterrand, however, and repeated his pledge that should Iraq withdraw, the United States would not use military force.

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.