PARIS -- President Bush failed yesterday to win a promise of support from Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev for the use of force to oust Iraqi troops from Kuwait.
"I think we all need patience," Mr. Gorbachev told reporters as he and Mr. Bush began a working dinner. "But that does not mean that we are going to relax, [or that] we are going to retreat."
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said after the dinner that the two leaders have "a conceptual agreement that the use of force cannot be ruled out." But he acknowledged that "more consultations" are necessary before the United States will be ready to offer a resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq to the United Nations Security Council.
"We have not reached a point of decision yet," he said.
Mr. Gorbachev's refusal to commit himself on a U.N. resolution was clearly a setback for Mr. Bush, who had hoped to get the Security Council to vote on the resolution before the end of the month, when the United States loses its rotating chairmanship.
The president is also trying to build political support -- at home and abroad -- for his threat of force against Iraq before visiting U.S. troops in the Saudi Arabian desert on Thanksgiving Day.
The White House suddenly canceled last night a joint press conference Mr. Bush had been scheduled to hold with the Soviet leader after their meeting.
"They decided this afternoon it's late; they didn't want to," Mr. Fitzwater said. "That's why they have paid spokesmen."
The president also seemed reluctant to take questions from reporters at a photo opportunity before the dinner, prompting Mr. Gorbachev to suggest that the U.S. leader "suffers from jet lag."
Asked whether he was satisfied with Mr. Gorbachev's position, Mr. Bush said: "We'll continue to [have] very open lines of communication, and I have no reason to be anything other than very satisfied."
The purpose of the U.N. resolution over which Mr. Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III have been consulting the international community is not to declare war against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, U.S. officials say.
"I think it sends him the message that the civilized world not only condemns what he's done but is determined to rectify the situation and that he is out of alternatives," Brent Scowcroft, the president's national security adviser, said yesterday during an interview on Cable News Network.
But the Soviet Union is one of five nations holding veto power on the Security Council, and thus its support is crucial. A Soviet endorsement may also be needed to solidify French backing for the proposition.
French President Francois Mitterrand has not yet publicly committed himself to more than a discussion of the issue, said his spokesman, Hubert Vedrine.
Mr. Gorbachev told reporters since the United States, Soviet Union and the United Nations as a whole "are working together," he is still optimistic "that in this very difficult crisis resolutions will be found. And we will not waste time."
Mr. Bush's setback with the Soviets came as Mr. Hussein was announcing plans to send 250,000 more troops to Kuwait.
Both Mr. Bush and Mr. Gorbachev declined to comment on the announcement. But Mr. Fitzwater said later that the announcement only demonstrated the Iraqi leader's lack of interest in a peaceful solution.
Mr. Gorbachev's elusive dance was quite different from the scene earlier yesterday when Mr. Bush and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher united in a very tough stand.
Calling on Mr. Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait "quickly, totally," Mrs. Thatcher said: "If he does not, then he has to be removed by force.
"This is evil. The things that are going on in Kuwait are terrifying . . . and most people understand that evil has to be stopped," she said.
The two leaders also sharply condemned Mr. Hussein's offer Sunday to begin releasing hostages on Christmas Day.
"This cynicism of starting to release them on Christmas Day will be seen by the world as a total ploy," Mr. Bush told reporters. "Does it offer me hope that he's getting more flexible? I don't think so."
Domestic political motives are doubtless at play in the reactions of Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Gorbachev, who are both in the throes of serious trouble at home.
But failure to get world backing for a military strike would also probably cause serious problems for Mr. Bush, who has already committed nearly 400,000 U.S. troops to the effort.