AMMAN, Jordan -- Soviet officials began flying their citizens out of Iraq yesterday as Arab leaders gave conflicting assessments of the chances of war and peace in the Persian Gulf.
King Hussein of Jordan met Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat in the latest stage of his effort to find a peaceful solution to the crisis.
The meeting came in the wake of increasing talk among leaders of the anti-Iraqi coalition of the prospect that the Palestinian issue will receive priority attention once the gulf confrontation is resolved.
After the meeting, Mohammed Milhem, a member of the PLO executive committee, said: "There are qualitative steps toward the need to implement all U.N. resolutions on all disputes in the region."
A Jordanian official told the Reuters news agency: "It is encouraging that after weeks of war talk, everyone is looking for a peaceful solution. There is nothing substantive yet, but the climate is changing."
President Bush and French President Francois Mitterrand have both indicated that the question of Palestinian rights could move to the top of the Middle East agenda after an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
Mr. Bush, who has been careful not to link the two issues directly, has demanded the restoration of the former Kuwaiti leadership before widening the Middle East agenda, but Mr. Mitterrand, in his peace proposal last week, did not cite this precondition.
Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Taha Yassin Ramadan said here last week: "We reject any international solution separate from a solution to other Arab problems, including the Palestinian cause."
A Soviet airliner arrived in Baghdad yesterday to take 80 oil engineers home.
An estimated 5,000 Soviet citizens, including 150 military advisers, are still in Iraq, and Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said last week that they were facing "some problems and difficulties."
A timetable for their repatriation was reportedly agreed to after Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's envoy, Yevgeny Primakov, met with Iraq's President Saddam Hussein. Before leaving Baghdad, Mr. Primakov said, "I am not pessimistic any longer toward the prospects of a political solution for the crisis."
A less optimistic assessment was given by Sultan Qaboos of Oman yesterday. He told Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, who has been touring the gulf region pledging financial assistance to affected states: "It is difficult to keep hope for a peaceful solution because there are no signs from Iraq" of any willingness to withdraw from Kuwait.
Mr. Kaifu restated Japan's demand for an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, the restoration of the Sabah leadership there and freedom for all foreigners held in Iraq and Kuwait.
There was also little sign of any weakening of resolve from European foreign ministers yesterday as they met in Italy.
British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who echoed last week Mr. Bush's suggestion that the Palestinian question would need to be resolved after Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, said: "We all agreed there were no compromises to be made as regards the content of Security Council resolutions."
These demand a withdrawal of Iraqi troops, which invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, and a restoration of the Kuwaiti government.