President Bush, playing down reports U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf will not be ready for combat by Jan. 15, said Thursday "the situation is just right."

In an impromptu meeting with White House reporters, Bush also denied reports that a date had been set for a meeting between Secretary of State James Baker and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.The president spoke briefly with reporters in the White House press office a few hours after his return from Camp David. Bush arranged to return to the presidential retreat in the afternoon to resume his holiday stay with family members.

Bush said Soviet Ambassador Alexander Bessmertynykh had delivered a message to him from President Mikhail Gorbachev, but he declined to reveal its contents.

Bush said that the message from Gorbachev was "confidential," but he described it as a "very, very good" letter.

Bush was asked about reports in recent days that Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Chairman Colin Powell of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had told him their inspection tour of U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf showed that they would not be prepared for combat until mid-February.

"Where did they get that stuff," Bush said of the media reports, adding, "I had a very good briefing from Dick and Colin and the situation is just right."