RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA, JAN. 9 -- Dismay and apprehension characterized reaction here to the outcome of the Geneva meeting between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, which kept people close to their radios and television sets all evening.

"It's a bad outcome," a Saudi government employee said glumly. "But it's been expected. . . . It's his {Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's} nature. He's confident he can get away with anything."

A senior Kuwaiti official called Aziz's refusal to accept President Bush's letter to Saddam "rude," adding: "What's he trying to do -- improve relations between Bush and Congress?"

"It's awful that they don't realize the seriousness and dangers of the situation," said a spokesman for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. "I think we are headed to war. No other choice."

A Kuwaiti businessman expressed ambivalent feelings when asked whether he thought the United States should agree to an international conference on the Middle East to get Iraqi forces out of his homeland without war: "You know we want our country back. This is the most important thing. If they make the linkage {between the Persian Gulf crisis and the Palestinian question} and Iraq pulls out of Kuwait, so much the better. {But} I think the Iraqis are really dirty, because they don't really believe in the linkage."

Saudi Arabia's government-run television interrupted its normal scheduling tonight to broadcast Baker's and Bush's press conferences via Cable News Network. However, it skipped Aziz's appearance, airing a wildlife program instead.

Earlier today, Mubarak was quoted as saying that if Israel became involved in any war against Iraq, Egypt would have to reassess its role in the international coalition. "We would not accept Israel coming in as a party to the gulf problem, or interfering militarily. Our position would be different" if Israel did so, Mubarak warned in al-Ahram newspaper.

The Egyptian leader said the issue of Israel's possible involvement "was the subject of a long discussion between us and the Americans and the Congress, and we informed them that we would not accept the participation of Israel in the war."