House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt said Wednesday he opposes the use of military force in the near future to oust Iraq from Kuwait, urging President Bush to follow a policy of "patient strength."

"Stay the course. Stick with the sanctions. Do not try to mount an offensive military action in the near future," the Missouri Democrat said in a speech.Gephardt's opposition to a resolution authorizing use of force is the first public break among the Democratic leadership, who said last week that Bush would have a better chance of winning congressional approval for the use of force in the Persian Gulf if the United Nations first backed such a move.

His remarks came as the Senate Armed Services Committee began its second day of hearings on the prospects of U.S. military action against Iraq. Democrats on Tuesday demanded that Bush give Congress the same opportunity as the United Nations to debate such a resolution.

Two former chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff bolstered the Democratic challenge to Bush to give U.N. sanctions time to work.

"My main concern with this latest scheduled reinforcement isn't that we might choose to fight, but rather that the deployment might cause us to fight - perhaps prematurely and perhaps unnecessarily," David C. Jones told the Armed Services Committee on Wednesday.

Both Jones and retired Adm. William Crowe said the sanctions are the best option at this time.

On Tuesday, committee chairman Sam Nunn, D-Ga., told the hearing that "This U.N. resolution is not a substitute for fully informing the American people of our own nation's objectives and strategy."

Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., said it is "not enough for President Bush to go to the United Nations to get approval for the use of military force in the Persian Gulf. He must also come to Congress."

Former CIA Director James Schlesinger testified that the United States believes it will take about a year for international sanctions against Iraq to take full effect.

Schlesinger said the United States must show tenacity and "we must be prepared to stay a year" in the desert of the Mideast.