BRUSSELS,BELGIUM — BRUSSELS, Belgium -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III and other U.S. officials expressed doubt yesterday that the Soviet Union wanted a fresh political initiative in the Persian Gulf before the United Nations authorized a military offensive against President Saddam Hussein of Iraq.
Yevgeny M. Primakov, President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's special envoy in the gulf, said in an interview Thursday that a new effort to find a political solution, involving a promise of a broader Middle East settlement, should precede any U.N. Security Council resolution approving the use of military force.
Mr. Baker, who is seeking support from Security Council members for such a resolution, met for a total of 13 hours last week in Moscow with Mr. Gorbachev and Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze. A senior U.S. official said Thursday that he had gained no assurance of support for a U.S. resolution but that "they didn't say no," and the Bush administration has received indications that the Soviets will go along.
"We should use up all possibilities for a political solution before force," Mr. Primakov said.
Asked here yesterday afternoon about the seeming contradiction, Mr. Baker brushed aside Mr. Primakov's comments, although he declined to explicitly question the Soviet envoy's authority to speak for his government. Mr. Baker said he remained "confident that we will be able to work well and closely, as we have in the past," with the Soviet leaders.
A member of Mr. Baker's traveling party said the United States expected a definitive answer from the Soviet Union either at a meeting between Mr. Baker and Mr. Shevardnadze tomorrow or at one between Mr. Gorbachev and President Bush on Tuesday in Paris.
If Mr. Primakov's call for further explorations of a diplomatic solution represents Mr. Gorbachev's position, it could cause major trouble for the United States. The Soviet Union could veto any Security Council resolution put forward by Washington, and the United States would most likely decide not to proceed, even though most of its allies have been pressing for U.N. authorization before any military offensive.