UNITED NATIONS -- Hinting that a new peace initiative might be under way in the Persian Gulf, the Soviet Union unexpectedly asked the Security Council last night to postpone approving a new resolution condemning Iraq.
Shortly before the resolution was to be debated and approved, the council postponed its session. Arab diplomats said that at Iraq's invitation, Yevgeny M. Primakov, the special envoy of Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, had arrived in Baghdad, to talk today with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, whom he had met earlier in the month.
The diplomats also said Mr. Hussein had written a letter to French President Francois Mitterrand, who is to meet with Mr. Gorbachev in Paris today.
Yuli P. Vorontsov, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations, said the postponement of the vote would "create a better atmosphere in Baghdad" for today's meeting.
"It's too soon to speculate, but I think they're talking seriously there," Mr. Vorontsov told reporters after leaving the council chambers with Iraqi Ambassador Abdul Amir al-Anbari.
[President Bush, meanwhile, traveling in Hawaii, said yesterday that Mr. Hussein was beginning to realize that the forces facing him were "deadly serious" and that this enhanced prospects for a peaceful solution of the gulf crisis.
["I think as he sees the U.S. forces moving in conjunction with many Arab country forces, in conjunction
with many European country forces, on land and on the sea, he's taking another look because we are deadly serious," Reuters quoted the president as saying.]
Earlier in the day, Mr. Gorbachev, visiting Spain, said, "There are some signs the top leadership in Iraq has understood that a solution cannot be found through ultimatums. Perhaps I am wrong. In the next days, things will become clearer."
Instructions to postpone the planned vote on the new resolution until this week came from Mr. Gorbachev and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who were in Madrid, the diplomats said.
Nothing could be learned about the invitation Baghdad has issued to Mr. Primakov. Arab diplomats also said they knew nothing of the contents of Mr. Hussein's letter to Mr. Mitterrand. But some said a new diplomatic opening appeared to be in the offing.
The Soviet Union asked for a postponement yesterday just as the Security Council was preparing to approve a new resolution stepping up pressure on Mr. Hussein by calling on all nations to begin collecting evidence of Iraqi war crimes in Kuwait and preparing their financial claims against Baghdad for losses suffered as a result of the invasion.
The resolution would also demand an immediate end to Iraqi hostage-taking, looting and pillaging in Kuwait; call on Iraq to resupply the few remaining foreign embassies there with food and water; and warn Mr. Hussein that if he failed to obey these orders, the Security Council would "take further measures under the charter."
But in deference to a determined campaign by four of its seven non-aligned members, the council is also planning to authorize U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar to make another attempt to find a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the gulf crisis.
The Bush administration has toned down the reference to a negotiated settlement, and early yesterday morning, it even rejected language already accepted by U.S. Ambassador Thomas R. Pickering on the ground that it called too strongly for a diplomatic solution.
The final vote on the resolution is expected to show at least 14 of the council's 15 members in favor, diplomats predict, including Yemen, the only Arab member. Only Cuba is said to be likely to abstain or vote against it.