WASHINGTON -- U.S. diplomats are working frantically to prevent a developing split over the Palestinian issue in the United Nations Security Council from causing severe damage to the anti-Iraq alliance.
Late yesterday, President Bush telephoned President Francois Mitterrand, whose government has said it is willing to vote for a PLO-backed resolution condemning Israel for the conduct of its security forces in suppressing a Palestinian demonstration on Monday.
Mr. Bush was trying to persuade Mr. Mitterrand to back a rival U.S. resolution, which also criticizes Israel but does not call for U.N. protection for Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Officials said Mr. Bush made it clear to Mr. Mitterrand that the alliance against Iraq would be badly hurt if the United States felt compelled to veto the PLO-backed resolution and give President Saddam Hussein of Iraq a propaganda victory.
Administration officials said Mr. Mitterrand promised to address Mr. Bush's concerns but made no specific commitments. Senior administration officials expressed strong criticism of the French government, which they believe is trying to curry favor with the Palestine Liberation Organization while also staying on good terms with its Western allies.
In London, the Foreign Office took the unusual step of announcing yesterday that Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd had telephoned Secretary of State James A. Baker III to warn him of the damage that another Security Council veto cast in Israel's favor could do to current efforts to reverse Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.
U.S. allies among Arab nations opposed to Iraq are also delivering a similar warning to Washington, their diplomats say. "Another American veto would be very harmful, very dangerous and you can quote me on that," Egypt's U.N. representative, Amre M. Moussa, said yesterday.
The British Foreign Office said yesterday that it was a telephone call from Mr. Hurd that finally persuaded Mr. Baker to drop his initial opposition to any condemnation of Israel and to introduce the U.S. resolution.
In return for this concession, the Arab and non-aligned members then agreed to soften the PLO's original demand that the Security Council itself send a three-member commission to investigate the conditions of Palestinians in the occupied territories and to prepare recommendations for their protection.
Instead, the mission will be sent by the U.N. secretary-general, although it will report to the council.
U.S. officials and some of Washington's Arab allies are said to believe that the PLO is acting in part at the direction of Mr. Hussein. But the PLO's U.N. representative said yesterday that the PLO was not trying to embarrass the United States and had not called for an early vote on its resolution even though it had the votes to win or force a U.S. veto.
Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, also flew to Paris yesterday in an effort to encourage France to support a Security Council resolution that the Americans would not veto.
Arab diplomats said that while Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Arab gulf states cannot publicly declare that they oppose the PLO resolution, they have all communicated that stance privately to the PLO.