UNITED NATIONS -- France began an 11th-hour diplomatic effort yesterday to avert war in the Persian Gulf, but U.S. officials said it offered too many concessions to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The six-point French proposal, unveiled at the United Nations, was strikingly similar to several peace plans Mr. Hussein has rejected. Iraq's U.N. ambassador said, however, he was willing to discuss it.
The plan calls for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait with guarantees that it would not be attacked afterward. U.N. forces would be used to maintain the peace.
The most controversial aspect is a call for an international peace conference on the Middle East, a link between the gulf crisis and the Palestinian uprising that the United States has steadfastly rejected.
Thomas R. Pickering, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, reflected that position, saying, "We do not believe in the creation of the linkage that appears to be in the French text. . . . Any effort now should come from Saddam Hussein."
He and other diplomats said the proposal would not come before the Security Council last night.
Mr. Pickering said that only Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait, as called for in 12 U.N. Security Council resolutions, would satisfy U.S. officials.
The only reason for hope, although a slim one, was the reaction of Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Abdul Amir Anbari, to the proposal.
"We believe France, perhaps better than many other members of the Security Council," Mr. Anbari said. "Very important people are acting seriously to avoid war. Let us talk. Let us negotiate. Let us stop threatening each other."
He said French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas would go to Baghdad, presumably to discuss the proposal.
U.N. diplomats said the visit might occur today.
Meanwhile, a downcast U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar returned from his own failed peace overture to Iraq, describing his talks with Mr. Hussein as "polite but unfortunately unsuccessful."
He said Mr. Hussein offered no concessions and "didn't express any desire to withdraw from Kuwait."
[Mr. Perez de Cuellar also said that Mr. Hussein had been remarkably "serene" during their talks, according to Reuters. CBS correspondent Mike Wallace said that when he asked Mr. Perez de Cuellar why Mr. Hussein was so serene, "Perez de Cuellar smiled wanly and said, 'Perhaps he should go to a psychiatrist.' "
[Later, Mr. Perez de Cuellar said that Mr. Hussein had appeared "both sane and intelligent."]
Hours before the French announcement, the European Community decided against a final peace mission to Iraq, saying that Mr. Perez de Cuellar had been "the last messenger of peace to Baghdad."
After four hours of talks, European Community foreign ministers agreed that it was too late to launch new diplomatic efforts.