LONDON -- The three candidates to succeed Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in today's ballot for leadership of this country and the Conservative Party all pledged yesterday to support the U.S.-led coalition in the gulf.
Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd talked with Secretary of State James A. Baker III to throw his support behind the proposal to set a deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. He has emphasized during the leadership campaign that the gulf crisis is entering a critical period and that he is best qualified to handle it.
Michael Heseltine, a former defense secretary, said he would back a deadline if it were imposed by the United Nations, adding: "I have been, I think, amongst the foremost of Mrs. Thatcher's backbenchers to support the stand her government has taken in support of the international force."
Norman Lamont, campaign manager for Chancellor of the Exchequer John Major, said: "He will handle any difficulty in international affairs with the same skill with which he has handled the economy."
In an effort to block the election of Mr. Heseltine, Mrs. Thatcher threw her support yesterday to Mr. Major, who has emerged as the most Thatcherite of the contenders and has said he would "build on" the achievements of Mrs. Thatcher's 11 years in office.
Mr. Major's campaign managers said he had pledges from more than 160 of the 372 parliamentarians who can vote. Victory requires 187 votes.
Mr. Heseltine's camp said their candidate now had more than the 152 votes he won in last week's first-round ballot, which led to Mrs. Thatcher's resignation.
Mr. Hurd is banking on an indecisive outcome today. This would produce a third ballot Thursday.
In that ballot, the voting parliamentarians would be required to state their first and second preferences for the leadership. The second preferences of the third-place candidate would then be distributed among the other two to decide the winner. The election rules do not cover deadlock.
Mr. Hurd's strategists believe that as the most experienced candidate, he could come in first or second in the third ballot and get the majority of the second preferences from supporters of Mr. Heseltine and Mr. Major.
Inside Downing Street, Mrs. Thatcher was supervising the packing of her bags yesterday.
"There is no recrimination. She is not grumbling," a close aide said.
If there is an outright result from today's ballot, she will hand in her resignation to the queen tomorrow morning and move out of Downing Street immediately.