Richard Perle, a Pentagon adviser and an influential hawk on Iraq, briefly fielded an apparent peace offer shortly before the U.S. invasion of that country this spring, he said last night.

Perle, a member of the Defense Policy Board, said in a telephone interview that he was approached last winter by Imad al Hage, a Lebanese businessman, with what was described as a offer by Saddam Hussein to hold elections and perhaps to permit the entry into Iraq of a small number of U.S. troops. Perle said he conveyed the offer to a friend at the CIA.

The approach to Perle and his handling of it were first reported last night by ABC News and on Newsweek magazine's Web site.

"There was no interest in pursuing it," Perle said last night from Berlin, where he is visiting. "And I had the impression that they'd already had overtures of this kind." At any rate, Perle said, "I had doubts about whether there was a real offer, because the Iraqis had a lot of ways to get in touch with the U.S."

A U.S. official with knowledge of the peace feeler was equally dismissive, describing it was "the standard stuff in the run-up to any war -- people sending signals, maybe stalling for time, some people trying to make some money." In this case, the official added, "there was no hint of any serious offer."

Likewise, Air Force Col. Jay DeFrank, a Pentagon spokesman, said that "any suggestion that al Hage's offer could have avoided war is nonsense."

-- Thomas E. Ricks