At this point, President Bush's televised talk Friday about U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf can be considered a decided success, judging from at least one key indicator.

As soon as the gist of Bush's remarks became apparent, oil prices that previously had soared in response to even the vaguest rumor of war started dropping.Though those remarks blended the modest lure of the carrot with the threat of the stick, oil traders clearly preferred to focus on the potential for peace in Bush's move. That's understandable because Friday's talk was important not only for what the president said but for how he said it. The tone was calm and measured while still managing to reflect firmness and determination.

In terms of substance, the talk also contained a dramatic initiative: Bush's announcement that he will send Secretary of State James Baker to Baghdad while inviting the foreign minister of Iraqi to meet with Bush in Washington.

If they take place, these would be the first meetings between top U.S. and Iraqi officials since Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2. But in suggesting the meetings, Bush was not extending an olive branch. Instead, Bush emphasized, the meetings would be used not to offer or seek limited concessions but to make it unmistakably clear to Iraq that it must withdraw from Kuwait or face a U.N.-backed military attack. Indeed, the meetings may not even take place if Iraq declines Bush's invitation. Besides, Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein has shown little inclination to be moved by either words or saber-rattling.

That does not necessarily mean that war is inevitable after the Jan. 15 deadline set by the United Nations for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Congressional Democrats appear unrelenting in their efforts to restrain Bush, with some insisting that the economic sanctions against Iraq be given at least 18 months to show whether or not they can work.

But, with partial solutions ruled out, there is little room for diplomacy to work. Moreover, there seems to be no face-saving device for Saddam to grasp unless he himself can manufacture one.

Under the circumstances, recent suggestions for a special session of Congress on the Persian Gulf crisis would be risky. One risk is that it could easily deepen divisiveness instead of healing it. Another is that anything short of solid backing from Congress could undermine the U.S.-led international coalition against Iraq.

Meanwhile, despite the hopes raised by Bush's talk on Friday, the Persian Gulf crisis remains exceptionally complex and murky. So murky that we suggest Americans join together in prayer on this matter. Some problems, after all, are so tough that a workable solution requires much more than just unaided human wisdom. Besides, no nation is ever stronger than it is when united in sincere, humble prayer.