LONDON -- The leaders of the seven major industrialized nations -- acting with the lesson of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent Persian Gulf war fresh in mind -- pledged themselves yesterday to create an effective means to control arms sales.
The G-7 countries, meeting in their annual economic summit here, also declared their intentions and gave their opinions on most of the major crises afflicting the world, seeking to give new life to a United Nations freed from the constraints of the Cold War.
Hours before Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's plane touched down here for a meeting with the G-7 leaders and a state visit to Britain, the summit declared in its political communique that "its support for the process of fundamental reform in the Soviet Union remains as strong as ever."
They also endorsed the current U.S. proposal for a peace conference in the Middle East, revived this week by a "positive letter" from Syrian President Hafez el Assad to President Bush.
British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who presented the communique, said the seven "welcomed the recent reply by President Assad . . . which we hope will open the way for progress toward a conference leading to direct negotiations."
U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III gave fuel to that hope last night. He said at a news conference that the Syrian letter makes possible "direct, bilateral negotiations between Israel and some of her Arab neighbors."
The Israeli reaction to the Syrian proposal so far has been restrained.
The positions of the seven came a day and a half into the three-day summit. An economic communique will follow today. Issued simultaneously with yesterday's communique was a document of almost equal length on arms transfers. It stressed the seriousness with which the G-7 regarded the spread of conventional arms, as well as nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.
"With the East-West confrontation of the last four decades behind us," the main communique said, ". . . the conditions now exist for the United Nations to fulfill completely the promise and the vision of its founders." The seven nations said they would commit themselves "to making the U.N. stronger, more efficient xTC and more effective in order to protect human rights, to maintain peace and security for all and to deter aggression."
The world body was named as the agency to administer a new registry of arms sales. "A feeling has come out of the gulf war that a strong U.N. can be a great good" in the world, a high-level British official said.
The nations said that sanctions against Iraq would be maintained until "all the relevant resolutions of the Security Council have been implemented in full and the people of Iraq, as well as their neighbors, can live without fear of intimidation, repression or attack."
Although the G-7 countries did not explicitly endorse the Bush administration's call for the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein, they did say that the Iraqi people "deserve the opportunity to choose their leadership openly and democratically."
Mr. Baker said that Washington had strong support from all the G-7 countries for military action against Iraq should Baghdad continue to resist U.N. efforts to inspect nuclear facilities.
The British official briefing reporters on condition of anonymity concurred. During the meetings held by the G-7 since Sunday night, there was not much "explicit discussion" of Iraq's attempts to avoid the inspection, he said.
"Everyone knows each other's views. There was no dissent from the general view," he said, adding that the countries looked to the United Nations to assure compliance by Baghdad, "but at the end of the day we are prepared to use whatever is required."
The leaders of the capitalist world also went out of their way to pay great tribute -- but not much cash -- to Mr. Gorbachev.
Although it is by now a certainty that Mr. Gorbachev will not leave London with promises of assistance amounting to billions of dollars, he did get a ringing endorsement from the summit. They praised his policies, which have "done so much to reduce East-West tensions."
Indeed, the attitude toward Mr. Gorbachev among the summiteers in London seemed to be one of deep gratitude for the changes he has effected in the world, ranging from his work in bringing an end to the Cold War, freeing East bloc countries and ending the conflict in Angola.
Said Mr. Baker: "There's no chance he will leave here empty-handed."
The assistance offered to him will be aimed at integrating the Soviet Union into the world economy, providing technical aid for his efforts to convert much of his defense industry to civilian production, and developing and improving the Soviet energy sector and food distribution.
Tomorrow's communique on economic matters is expected to contain even stronger verbal support for the Soviets' attempt to move toward a market economy.
In the brief time they were together, the leaders also briefed one another on Lebanon, the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the encouraging developments in South Africa. They also pledged renewed efforts to "deter terrorism and hostage taking" and to continue helping the Eastern European countries.
But arms sales were portrayed as uppermost among their anxieties.
The group said there was a need to find a balance between "a reasonable level of security and the inherent right of self-defense," which is recognized in the U.N. Charter, and the creation of "a massive arsenal that goes far beyond the needs of self-defense and threatens its neighbors."
Iraq, of course, was the case in point.