ROME -- The European Community formally started yesterday the process of turning its 12 member nations into a more unified political federation with common foreign and security policies and a single currency.
At the same time, community leaders told Iraq once again that it TC must withdraw from Kuwait, affirmed a massive program of emergency aid for the Soviet Union and eased their economic sanctions against South Africa.
Baghdad, they warned, bears responsibility for ensuring peace in the Persian Gulf.
Looking at its own affairs, the community opened negotiations among its members on redesigning its basic structures, an arduous task that is likely to take months and the probable results of which are still unclear.
"We really have today a rendezvous with history," said Jacques Delors, EC president.
The broad goal is to propel the bloc toward eventual political and monetary union, moving well beyond the unified economic market already scheduled for the end of 1992.
But this new step may prove far more complex.
The member countries have a wide range of opinions on how much sovereignty they are prepared to yield to centralized bodies in the name of a common voice on political, social, diplomatic and possibly defense matters. Nonetheless, all 12 agreed at a summit meeting here to start the process.
Joining the movement was Britain's new prime minister, John Major, who made it plain that his country was still leery of a united Europe.
But Mr. Major avoided the pugnacious style that ultimately caused his predecessor, Margaret Thatcher, to be isolated by the others.
Mrs. Thatcher was abandoned by the other 11 in late October when they ignored her vociferous objections and pressed ahead with a 1994deadline for creating a central bank that would lead eventually to a single European currency.
How to advance this so-called economic and monetary union is the focus of one intergovernmental conference that got under way yesterday and will probably continue well into next year.
A parallel conference on "political union" also began, but it is expected to follow a thornier path, for it must consider how far to go toward centralizing policies on a kaleidoscope of sensitive issues from the environment to military control.
In effect, Mr. Major decided that, while he shares many of Mrs. Thatcher's doubts about moving too fast toward a federal Europe, he would wage his battle from within instead of filling his predecessor's self-designated role as perennial outsider.
To help ease the new British prime minister into the fold, the other 11 avoided setting rigid guidelines for the conference on political union, which is charged with rewriting segments of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic
Community in 1957.
Instead, the community leaders broadly listed topics for their negotiators to consider.
The political conference was instructed to study the possibility of strengthening the basically powerless European Parliament, creating a European citizenship and dropping the present unanimity rule to allow a majority vote for decisions.
Those favoring the rule change argue that no single country should be allowed to block important policies, especially if the community expands its membership.
But Britain, for one, wants to keep the old rule and the protection it provides against being pushed into unwanted actions.
Prime Minister Giulio Andreotti of Italy, whose country holds the community's rotating presidency, observed, "The important thing is that all 12 guests have sat down at the table."
On South Africa, the summit leaders lifted a 1986 community ban on new investments as an acknowledgment of recent reforms and as an inducement for Pretoria to dismantle the rest of its apartheid apparatus.
Turning to the Soviet Union's food crisis, the 12 community countries ratified their decision on Friday to give Moscow $1 billion in immediate emergency aid and to authorize perhaps $1.4 billion more in technical assistance in 1991 and 1992.
The exact figures for the technical aid were left vague yesterday because the summit leaders said they wanted to see what the true needs were before committing themselves for 1992.