Because of transmission error, an article yesterday about a Washington Post-ABC News poll mistakenly attributed a quote about President Bush to Natasha Hernandez of Brooklyn. The speaker was Sandy Herrera of Manhattan, a secretary at an insurance company. (Published 1/ 12/91)

Most Americans believe war with Iraq is inevitable and nearly eight out of 10 think Congress should endorse the United Nations resolution that implicitly authorizes the use of force to drive Iraq from Kuwait, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But at the same time, two-thirds of those questioned said the administration should be more flexible on the question of an international peace conference on the Middle East and support a meeting on Arab-Israeli issues if Iraqi troops are withdrawn from Kuwait.

Iraq has said that all Middle East questions should be discussed as a package, including the Palestinian question. Other countries, including European allies who are expected to call today for an international conference on the Arab-Israeli dispute within the next five days, support the idea of at least one international conference on the Middle East to discuss a range of issues.

While Bush has supported the concept of a peace conference on Middle East issues "at the appropriate time," he has rejected discussing it until after Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, saying "there should be no link" between the two.

The Bush administration contends that offering any concessions to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein would reward Iraq for its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. Bush also believes an agreement now to meet on the Middle East would improperly link long-standing Arab-Israeli grievances to the gulf crisis.

Following the failure of talks in Geneva Wednesday between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, the Post-ABC survey of 511 adults nationwide and additional conversations with people around the country found growing pessimism about the chances of peace.

Nearly nine of 10 Americans believe war is inevitable, but large majorities also favor continued diplomatic talks up to and even beyond the Tuesday deadline the United Nations Security Council has set for the withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, the Post-ABC poll found.

"I hope for the men over there there's a negotiated solution," said Joan Moriarty, 40, a file processor from Old Bridge, N.J.

Asked the likelihood of such an outcome, she held up her thumb and forefinger leaving just a tiny space between them. "Very slim," she said. "They waited all this time, there might be a war right away. They won't wait another month."

Public support for the president is strong. In addition to those who want Congress to authorize use of military force, as Bush has asked, more than two of three questioned continue to approve of the way Bush is handling the situation in the gulf. Political affiliation did not affect that opinion, which was expressed by majorities of Republicans and Democrats. Seven of 10 said the United States "has done enough" to seek a diplomatic solution.

Nevertheless, large majorities said they want talks to continue between the United States and Iraq. According to the poll, eight out of 10 said the United States should hold additional talks with Iraq before Jan. 15, while 53 percent say the search for a diplomatic solution should continue after the deadline expires. Nearly nine of 10 said they support a meeting between U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and Iraqi leaders.

"You do whatever you can to prevent a war," said Rae Winokur, 62, of Chicago.

"Anything to save a life," agreed Tim Armour, 23, a customer service representative in a downtown Chicago shopping mall. "The day of the gung-ho America, let's-go-over-and-kick-some-butt, is over."

But most Americans do not appear to believe such talks will produce a peaceful end to the crisis. More than half -- 58 percent -- of those interviewed said they did not expect additional U.S.-Iraq talks would produce a diplomatic solution. And 55 percent doubted the secretary general's mission to Iraq would bring peace.

"I think they {the Iraqis} want a deal, but I'm not sure anyone knows a way to satisfy the U.N., the U.S. and them all at once," said Teresa Finster Redding, 30, president of a marble importing company in Chicago. "They should have used force right in the beginning. Now Kuwait is destroyed, everyone is involved and if they use force now, it seems it will be much bigger."

"Bush opened his mouth setting a deadline instead of thinking it through further," said Natasha Hernandez, 20, an office assistant in Brooklyn, N.Y. "As long as it takes they should just keep talking."

The survey results suggest that three out of four Americans continue to support the overall U.S. objective of forcing Iraq out of Kuwait.

While most Americans appear willing to go to war at some point after Tuesday if Iraq continues to occupy Kuwait, the latest Post-ABC poll continues to show that only a minority of Americans want that war to begin when the deadline expires. According to the survey:

39 percent of those who favor the war option said the United States should go to war "immediately" after the U.N. deadline expires. In a Post-ABC survey completed before the Baker-Aziz meeting, 29 percent favored beginning hostilities when the deadline expires.

43 percent favor beginning hostilities within a month after Tuesday's deadline.

12 percent said the United States and its allies should wait one to three months before starting a war with Iraq.

2 percent favored waiting four months or longer.

Staff writers Laurie Goodstein in New York and Edward Walsh in Chicago, special correspondent Elizabeth Hudson in Austin, Tex., and senior polling analyst Sharon Warden in Washington contributed to this report.