Iraq said Monday it will send 250,000 more troops to Kuwait, more than doubling its military strength in the occupied kingdom. President Bush dismissed Iraq's promise, made a day earlier, to free all foreigners by March.

The troop buildup was announced by the Iraqi News Agency 11 days after Bush said 200,000 more U.S. soldiers would be shipped to the region to bring the American force to 430,000. Previously, Iraq was believed to have about 170,000 troops in Kuwait and 250,000 men in southern Iraq.President Saddam Hussein and his military commanders met and decided to send seven extra divisions of the regular army and another 150,000 reserves and draftees, the news agency said.

"This means the United States will need to mobilize a 3 million-strong force with similar equipment and armament to our forces" if it is to attack, the agency said.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Rick Oborn said the department would have no comment on the report.

On Sunday, Iraq said it would free the estimated 2,000 remaining Westerners stranded in Iraq and occupied Kuwait between Christmas and March 25 "unless something would take place that mars the atmosphere of peace."

Bush called the Iraqi announcement a bid to buy time.

"This cynicism of starting to release them on Christmas Day will be seen by the world as a total ploy," he said in Paris, where NATO and Warsaw Pact leaders signed an arms reduction treaty.

Bush used the gathering of 34 leaders to try to win more support for a U.N. resolution authorizing an attack to drive Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

Some U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf crisis, including the Soviet Union and Germany, expressed concern that Bush was rushing toward war.

`Evil has to be stopped'

But Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain reiterated her support for Bush's position, saying that Saddam can avoid war only by withdrawing quickly from Kuwait.

"Most people understand evil has to be stopped. Either he withdraws, or the military option has to be used," she said after seeing Bush in Paris, where NATO and Warsaw Pact leaders signed an arms reduction treaty.

Gorbachev has `new ideas'

However, Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said he was sure a way could be found to avoid war and that he would offer "new ideas" in a meeting with Bush Monday. Chancellor Helmut Kohl of Germany told Bush on Sunday that all options short of war must first be exhausted.

Analysts have said a military strike against Iraqi forces is most likely in winter because of lower temperatures and generally calm weather. Sandstorms usually occur in April.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III has met in the past week with foreign ministers from many of the 15 members of the U.N. Security Council, seeking support for the resolution endorsing a military assault if the U.N.-ordered embargo on trade with Iraq fails.

Some diplomats say the proposal could be made before the end of the month.

In other developments

- High winds and rough seas forced U.S. Marines to cancel a second attempt to storm a Saudi beach in an amphibious landing exercise. Similar conditions forced the exercise to be scrubbed on Sunday, and officials said no further attempts will be made.

- The Saudi government announced that more than 300 Iraqi officers and soldiers have defected to Saudi Arabia since the invasion of Kuwait. It was the first time that Saudi Arabia had officially confirmed defections. Some defectors have been reported to include Iraqi soldiers with their tanks.

- The newspaper Stars and Stripes reported Monday that the U.S. Air Force is setting up four contingency hospitals in Europe in preparation for a possible influx of casualties from the gulf. The unofficial U.S. military newspaper said the contingency hospitals are in England and Germany.