About 20 peace activists pushed their cause Tuesday with with Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, but soon discovered they were preaching to the converted.

In fact, Owens was so certain that military force should not be used at this time in an offensive strike against Iraq that he said it didn't make much difference what the group said - he was voicing his own convictions. They happened to coincide with many of the opinions voiced by the antiwar activists."I do think you have to work on the rest of the (Utah congressional) delegation," he said.

"Spread out," Owens advised, responding to the question by one about what the people can do to help America avoid war."Get active. I don't need to tell you what to do - you're doing them."

He suggested the group could hold more forums to discuss the possibilities of war in the Persian Gulf.

"Groups like this stopped the war in Vietnam, you know," he said.

Some of the activists meeting with Owens in his office in the Federal Building said they were simply concerned citizens. Some of those present were members of groups including the United Nations Association of Utah and Women Concerned About Nuclear War.

Referring to the lawsuit he and more than 40 other members of Congress filed Tuesday in an effort to prevent a military strike without the approval of Congress, he said, "I make no apologies at all for challenging the president's right" to take offensive action on his own.

Speaking of the Constitution, he said, "It says only Congress has the power to declare war."

In a new, post-Cold War world, he said, the United Nations should take stern economic measures against bullies like Saddam Hussein.

"Let's take time and let the sanctions work," Owens said. He said everyone believes that might take a year or longer.

One activist raised the possibility that the Central Intelligence Agency might have been involved with a plan by Kuwait to drill oil wells at a slant into an Iraqi oil field, which may have been one of the factors prompting the Aug. 2 invasion.

Rosemary Holt, a member of Women Concerned About Nuclear War, quoted Secretary of State James Baker as saying that the reason America is in the Middle East is jobs.

"We're in the Middle East because of oil," Owens said. "I mean, I'm not kidding anybody about that. We don't respond to every aggressive act by one neighbor against another."

In a meeting with Baker last week, he said, he told the secretary that "it presented him in a bad light to make that argument." He added that he knows Baker well and likes him.

One man said he has heard that a split is developing in the Bush administration between a faction of hawks led by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and a more peaceful faction led by Baker.

Members of the group congratulated Owens for challenging President Bush on the issue of warmaking powers.