The world has little chance of avoiding war in the Persian Gulf, three Middle East experts at Utah universities say.

And poor communication between the United States and Iraq seems to be the major threat to peace, they said.The experts are Jim Toronto of the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at Brigham Young University; Lee Bean, director of the Middle East Center at the University of Utah; and Ibrahim Karawan, an assistant professor of political science and Middle Eastern studies at the U.

Toronto lived for eight years in Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Anyone who has lived in the region for any length of time and who understands the background of the situation would be pessimistic about the prospects for peace, he said.

That is partly because of the Iraqis' refusal to compromise and their insistence on points that the United States and the world community find unacceptable, he said. But it is also because "it seems the United States has been a little bit intransigent in some ways."

Toronto thinks war will break out.

"But I would also hasten to add that nobody's ever gotten rich making successful predictions about the Middle East. I think there is a possibility - although I think it's remote - that there could be an eleventh-hour-and-fifty-ninth-second dramatic turnaround by Saddam Hussein, some sort of totally unexpected announcement of a compromise."

It could be an agreement Saddam worked out with a coalition of Arab and European diplomats who are frantically searching for a road to peace. For example, on Friday an Arab diplomat at the United Nations said that a day or two after Tuesday's deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait, Saddam may offer to withdraw if the United States will promise that an international peace conference will be held on the Palestinian dilemma.

Under this theory, Iraq's offer would come after Tuesday because Saddam wants to avoid giving the impression that he was intimidated by the approaching deadline.

"But given the hostility of the rhetoric that is coming out on both sides, I just don't see it happening," Toronto said.

To some extent, both sides painted themselves into a corner, he believes.

"The idea of saving face is very strong in the Arab world. . . . And I would have to say that President Bush has some face to save, too."

Bean rates the odds that war will break out at about 90 percent. "It seems to me that the possibility of negotiations are very low at the present time, basically because both sides are talking past one another."

The United States and Iraq have laid out their agendas and won't back off, he said. "As a consequence, we aren't communicating."

The 10 percent hope that he envisions is based on the fact that other groups are trying to help.

Still, Bean said, the possibility of heading off war seems dim.

According to Karawan, who is from the Middle East, there may be three chances to avoid war:

- Iraq could relent and announce it accepts the principle of withdrawing from Kuwait.

- President Bush could fail to get Congress to authorize fighting.

- Some third party could negotiate a compromise acceptable to all sides.

Karawan doesn't think any of these is likely. He stressed that he was giving an analysis of the situation, not advocating a position.

As far as Iraq changing its mind, he said, nobody can predict the likelihood. "All the indications to me suggest that he (Saddam) is not likely to do that.

Besides, this would be a complicated process, requiring agreements from several entrenched parties such as the Palestinians. "I don't see it coming in a very few days."

As far as Congress turning down Bush's request for an authorization to use force, "I'm not an expert in American politics, but my sense overall is that it is less likely."

If America were to find itself legally unable to strike Iraq, "some may argue it would be a betrayal of the forces in the gulf." Congress, realizing that, would probably rule out that option, in his analysis.

The third possibility - a solution found by third parties - is more probable than the other two.