PARIS -- The more than 5,000 hostages being held in Iraq and Kuwait would be released only in exchange for "solid guarantees" that Iraq would not be subject to a military strike, the Iraqi ambassador to Paris said yesterday.
Abdul Razzak al-Hachimi also said that Baghdad interpreted remarks by Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and French President Francois Mitterrand as a joint refusal to resolve the Persian Gulf standoff militarily, signaling a deep split in the coalition against Iraq.
Mr. al-Hachimi's comments came at precisely the moment that President Bush said he was reaching the limits of his patience with Iraq's detention of Western hostages.
The United States has refused to rule out recourse to a military strike to force Iraq out of Kuwait and in fact is set to move 100,000 more troops to Saudi Arabia.
Mr. al-Hachimi said that Iraq had always declared that foreign nationals were being held to prevent "a disaster."
"So when Iraq receives guarantees, solid guarantees, that no military operations against Iraq will take place, then all the foreign nationals can leave," he said. "So far, we have not received such guarantees."
The ambassador said such guarantees could be in the form of a U.N. Security Council resolution or a "loud and clear" statement from the U.S. and British governments "that they are not for war."
Mr. al-Hachimi made his comments after reports in the Financial Times of London quoted senior officials in Baghdad as stating that Iraq would consider releasing all foreign hostages if Presidents Gorbachev and Mitterrand committed themselves publicly to a negotiated rather than a military settlement of the conflict.
Oddly, Mr. al-Hachimi said he believed the news conference Monday with the two leaders at the Chateau de Rambouillet amounted to a public commitment to a diplomatic solution.
But he said that that did not suffice to win the release of hostages.
At the news conference, Mr. Gorbachev said he considered a military strike against Iraq "unacceptable," while Mr. Mitterrand said he would prefer a diplomatic solution and adherence to U.N. resolutions.
The French president has steered clear of publicly ruling out recourse to a military strike should U.N. sanctions fail to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait.
The two leaders also addressed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's stated goals in calling for an international peace conference to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict, not conditioned on an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait.
"Mikhail Gorbachev said a military solution was unacceptable, and Francois Mitterrand said he was for a peaceful solution. The idea is clear," Mr. al-Hachimi said.
"The meeting . . . was clear in saying they were not for war.
"Personally, I think that explains the nervousness of the U.S. and British governments, because they are beating the drums of war these last few days," he said.
Earlier this week, 268 French nationals were flown home from Kuwait and Iraq.
Western analysts have seen the freeing of all the French hostages as an effort to split the coalition against Iraq by singling out France.
But the Iraqi ambassador said that the release was more in recognition of an existing rift between the French and U.S. positions rather than an effort to provoke division.
"When you read the official U.S. and British position and the French-Soviet statements, it's clear -- the split is already there," he said. "It's very clear that now they are very different in their objectives in the region."
Mr. al-Hachimi confirmed that the liberation of French citizens was a "unilateral decision" by Iraq, involving no negotiations with the French.
But he ruled out the release of Soviet nationals, whose detention Mr. Gorbachev called "amoral" Monday.
The Soviet leader said Iraq held 3,000 Soviet "hostages" and promised to do everything possible for their safe return.
"The Soviets are not hostages," Mr. al-Hachimi said.
"They are there on a contractual basis." He said they would be free to leave once their contracts were completed.