President Bush last night described Operation Desert Storm as "right on schedule" and said "there can be no pause" in the war with Iraq.

"We will stay the course, and we will succeed," he told a group of reserve military officers in a speech that he described as a report on the war's progress.

"Operation Desert Storm is working," the president said, citing "severe" damage to Iraq's nuclear facilities and successes in knocking out Iraqi airfields, radars and other air defenses.

Bush's report, while upbeat, included what has become an almost daily caution that the conflict will be neither short nor easy. "There will be problems. There will be setbacks, there will be more sacrifices," he said, "but let me say I have every reason to be very pleased with our progress to date."

With the country vacillating between optimism and pessimism over the course of the war, Bush's speech, according to a senior official, was meant to reassure Americans that "they may be surprised one day to the next" over reports of how the conflict is going, but "the president is not. He is confident, satisfied."

In the speech, Bush's first public event since U.S. forces attacked Iraq last week, he offered a stern warning to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on his use of Scud missiles against civilian areas of Israel and Saudi Arabia and his mistreatment of allied prisoners of war. Saddam, he said, "has sickened the world" with his "tools of terror, and they do nothing but strengthen our resolve to act against a dictator unmoved by human decency."

"No one should weep for this tyrant when he is brought to justice," the president said, a reference to his earlier pledge to hold Saddam accountable for treatment of prisoners and conduct of the war under the Geneva Conventions. The White House suggested earlier this week that war crimes trials or some similar device may be pursued after the war.

Proof of Saddam's "savagery," Bush told the Reserve Officers Association at the Washington Hilton, was the "repulsive parade of our American airmen" on Iraqi television. The words they spoke, Bush said, were "false . . . forced on them by their captors."

In reporting on a week of battle, Bush recounted the history of U.S. efforts since Aug. 2 in trying to get Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait and said: "We did not begin a war seven days ago. Rather, we began to end a war, to right a wrong that the world could not ignore."

Bush's remarks came shortly after Vice President Quayle returned from a daylong tour of East Coast military bases, where he held what he described as "very emotional" meetings with families of missing or captured servicemen and offered reassurances similar to Bush's that the United States "will hold Saddam Hussein and his henchmen personally responsible" for mistreating Americans held by his government.

Quayle, breaking with the administration's benign public attitude toward anti-war demonstrators, also complained that the news media "gives much more attention to those protests than they deserve," and assured military audiences at three stops that "there is overwhelming support" around the nation for the military action.

Quayle, in an interview later, said he was not suggesting demonstrations should cease, but only that the news media were giving the impression that the opposition is "massive" when in fact it is minuscule. Media coverage, he said, should be "somewhat of a percentage" reflecting those involved.

Quayle said his meetings with relatives of U.S. fliers shot down over Iraq and those of three Navy officers who died when their ferry capsized off the coast of Israel brought "strong, almost visceral support" of Bush's policies. "There were tears on both sides," Quayle said of the private sessions he had with family members.

At Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, Fla., the vice president met with Robin Hunter, brother of Marine Chief Warrant Officer Guy Hunter Jr., one of the American POWs Iraqi television displayed this week. Robin Hunter, the vice president said, pressed him for reassurances that the United States would continue its efforts to get the Red Cross access to the prisoners, a requirement under the Geneva Conventions.

Asked later if the administration had any hope Saddam would allow such access, Quayle said, "only if he {Saddam} thinks it is in his interests."

In remarks at Mayport, which with neighboring Cecil Field and Jacksonville Naval Air Station has sent 9,000 troops to the gulf, Quayle looked out on audiences that were mostly women, many of them holding infants or the hands of young children, their husbands away at war. He cautioned them that the conflict would not be short and that their loved ones may not survive.

"I wish I could tell you that the task facing our troops . . . is an easy one. But I can't," he said in a somber voice. "I wish I could promise you that your loved ones will be coming home tomorrow, but I can't. . . . Taking out that huge military arsenal will take some time."

At Mayport and later at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and at Norfolk Naval Air Station, Quayle, an avid proponent of space-based defense systems, exulted in the successes of the Patriot anti-ballistic missile system and chastised those who doubted the system during the Reagan administration. That missile, he said, "will change the way we think about and fight wars."

At Norfolk, Quayle met with Anna Slade, wife of Navy Lt. Lawrence Slade, whom the military had not yet listed officially as missing. After the meeting, which the Quayle staff told reporters about, the officer was officially acknowledged as missing from a Monday mission.

Quayle also met with Jacqueline Curtin, fiancee of Lt. Robert Wetzel, missing from a Saturday flight, and with the wife and young children of Lt. Cmdr. Scott Speicher, the first pilot listed as missing in the war.