PARIS -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III, ending a seven-nation trip to survey views on the use of military force against Iraq, said yesterday that he found a "strong consensus on collective aims and on the need to resist partial solutions."
But Mr. Baker also acknowledged that differences remained over how long to wait before launching an offensive to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
"There are differing opinions of how long it would take sanctions to work. But there is really . . . an extraordinary degree of unanimity and support for the path that we're on," he said.
Mr. Baker visited with leaders from Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, China, the Soviet Union, Britain and France during his weeklong trip before flying back to Washington. The Persian Gulf states leaned toward a military solution, but France, China and the Soviet Union urged a peaceful solution to end the 3-month-old crisis.
Mr. Baker's stop in Paris was seen as critical in testing the French level of support for possible military action in the gulf.
He said his discussions here included command control and logistics if an offense were mounted against Iraqi forces, and he called his meetings with President Francois Mitterrand and Foreign Minister Roland Dumas "very, very productive."
But Mr. Baker stopped short of saying he was leaving France with clear backing for a United Nations Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force at the moment.
Mr. Dumas, speaking after his meeting yesterday with Mr. Baker, said he had underscored French support for existing U.N. resolutions that placed an embargo against Iraq. He did not say whether France would embrace or reject farther-reaching U.N. resolutions that could result in war, or whether French troops would fight.
"No one is talking about military conflict right now," Mr. Dumas NTC said. "We will reinforce our efforts to find a diplomatic solution."
Mr. Mitterrand has never publicly ruled out recourse to war should U.N. sanctions and other efforts fail to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait. And it would seem unlikely that France, which holds a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, would directly veto a resolution authorizing force.
But for reasons of France's domestic policy and its Middle Eastern policy -- which is marked by long-standing ties to the Arab world -- France would prefer to be seen as only reluctantly taking up arms against an Arab state, and certainly not at U.S. bidding. Thus, the emphasis on the U.N. SecurityCouncil.
Following his meetings with French officials, Mr. Baker stressed that, like France, the United States would far prefer a diplomatic solution to the gulf crisis. "That is our clear preference; that is very much our strong preference," Mr. Baker said.
But he insisted that a diplomatic solution could only follow a complete Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. "We mean it when we say we would like to have a political solution," he said. "[But] if you equate diplomacy with partial solutions, then we are against "As we wrap up this trip, I feel that we have a very strong consensus on our collective aims, and on the need particularly to resist partial solutions and on the need to work together and stay together in this coalition and on the need to make all of our options credible, if we are to succeed," Mr. Baker said.
Now, he said, the international community "must heighten the pressure further. Indeed, we have to lay the foundation for the use of force should that become necessary."
The "key," said Mr. Baker, is to "send a clear and unmistakable signal to Baghdad that we are serious. And I think we have sent that signal."
Mr. Baker said that the international force in the gulf was prepared militarily to move into Kuwait but that the decision to launch an attack would have to be made by top world leaders.
President Bush will have a chance to pick up the dialogue on options in the Persian Gulf crisis when he visits Paris Nov. 19-21 for the 34-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe.
The conference will include allies of the East and West blocs. Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev said in Germany Friday that the gulf crisis would be the first test of unity between former enemies of the Cold War.