President Bush, spending Christmas with his family at this mountain retreat, reportedly has been told that senior military officers believe U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf won't be ready to take on Iraq until late February.

Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin L. Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, met Monday with Bush at the presidential retreat in Maryland.The two told Bush that senior military officers share the view of Lt. Gen. Calvin Waller, deputy U.S. commander in Saudi Arabia, that the troops would not be ready to attack Iraqi forces until well after the Jan. 15 deadline set by the United Nations for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. That word came from ABC-TV on Monday night and The New York Times in Tuesday editions.

Neither the White House nor the Defense Department provided any details of the talks and Cheney made no comment to reporters when he returned to the Pentagon.

Meanwhile, Steve Hart, a White House spokesman, said Bush would have a "very private holiday." Bush intends to stay at Camp David until Jan. 2.

Cheney, meantime, was spending Christmas in Wyoming, the state he represented as a congressman.