LONDON -- The European Community is expected to dovetail its own last-minute Persian Gulf peace initiative today with President Bush's invitation to Iraq for talks between Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz next week.
The U.S. initiative was welcomed yesterday by British Prime Minister John Major -- who also approved the expulsion from Britain of 75 Iraqis -- and by King Hussein of Jordan, who is here at the start of a tour of European capitals.
Mr. Major described his talks with King Hussein as "useful and friendly" and said both leaders "welcome very much indeed" the proposal for U.S.-Iraqi talks.
King Hussein, who has been pushing for a negotiated settlement, called it "positive news."
European foreign ministers were to meet in Luxembourg today and were expected to seize the opportunity to return to their original diplomatic format of seeking a meeting with Mr. Aziz after his talks with Mr. Baker.
After the initial plan for U.S.-Iraqi contacts last month fell through over disagreement about dates, the Europeans backed out of scheduled talks with Mr. Aziz, citing anxiety to avoid mixed signals.
The prospect of a Baker-Aziz meeting next week revives the original strategy.
"I think we are all probably feeling more comfortable, as what we now have in prospect are American and European meetings," a British official said.
Asked whether the new U.S. initiative might make European-Iraqi talks redundant, the official said, "Good lord, no problem.
"If you are talking about delivering a message likely to get through to the noddle [head] of Saddam Hussein, you can't escape from the fact that the people best placed to deliver that message most convincingly are the Americans.
"The Europeans are rather better in reinforcing the message than in taking the lead, given the relative military deployments.
"The message is plain and stark -- that if he does what the U.N. requires, he doesn't get attacked; if he doesn't do what the U.N. requires of him, he does get attacked."
Until the new U.S. invitation to Iraq for talks, the Europeans faced a potentially divisive meeting today. The Germans and French were more enthusiastic for an independent European initiative than were the British.
Luxembourg's Foreign Minister Jacques Poos had been talking about discussing a post-withdrawal diplomatic scenario with the Iraqis, implying the sort of linkage between the current Persian Gulf crisis and Palestinian questions that the United States has flatly rejected.
The Belgians were distancing themselves from any military action, refusing to allow their three warships in the gulf to join any hostilities or to supply British troops in the region with ammunition.
The Bush administration's new invitation has defused some of the tension surrounding today's meeting and has concentrated attention on how best to reinforce the U.S. effort to forestall war by persuading Iraq to withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait, as the United Nations has required.
Beyond the diplomatic maneuvers, the British continued yesterday their preparations for war. The government ordered 75 Iraqis -- eight diplomats and 67 students -- out of the country, saying their continued presence was considered "not conducive to the public good."