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Congressional hearings and public opinion have combined to lessen the prospect of war in the Persian Gulf region, U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan said here today.

Moynihan, at a meeting with editors of The Buffalo News, also predicted President Bush will be hard to beat in 1992 if he resolves the gulf crisis "satisfactorily and without a war."

"We talked, cajoled and threatened, and I think they got the message," said Moynihan, who just weeks ago had warned Bush his presidency could "die in the Arabian desert" if he insisted on undertaking an early military action against Iraq.

The hearings, at which military and civilians alike cautioned against war and asked for more time for sanctions to work against Iraq, were followed by two developments that Moynihan said have diminished the chance of war.

One was Bush's offer to send Secretary of State James A. Baker III to Baghdad to define the American position and to invite the Iraqi foreign minister to Washington.

The other was Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's decision to release American and other foreign hostages who were being held in Iraq and Kuwait.

Another encouraging development, according to Moynihan, was Baker's declaration that the United States would not launch a military strike against Iraq if Iraq withdraws from Kuwait.

Moynihan said he had stood behind Bush 100 percent in the Persian Gulf crisis, which started Aug. 2 when Iraq invaded Kuwait.

But the senator said he became alarmed after Bush announced Nov. 10 that he was increasing to more than 400,000 -- about twice the number he had originally dispatched -- the number of American military personnel assigned to the gulf region.

"The logistics alone could drive us into war," Moynihan warned.

Moynihan said Sen. Sam Nunn, D-Ga., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and other congressional, military and civilian experts had helped to "send a message" to the Bush administration.

"There has been a change in their war mentality," said Moynihan.

A peaceful resolution of the crisis and a successful effort by Bush to fashion a new world order could make the president "very difficult to beat," Moynihan said.

"He then could make a claim for a second term, one in which he could say he has earned a second term," added Moynihan.

Moynihan ruled himself out as a possible candidate for the Democratic nomination for president.

As for the lack of activity among Democratic presidential candidates, Moynihan said:

"We used up most of our candidates in 1988."

But he said the Democratic Party would field a viable candidate, listing Gov. Cuomo of New York and Gov. Lawrence Douglas Wilder of Virginia, Sen. Albert Gore Jr. of Tennessee, Rep. Richard Gephardt of Missouri and Nunn as prospects.

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