Officials from Reuters and United Press International confirmed yesterday that there have been discussions about the possible sale of UPI to the London-based wire service.

"There have been preliminary discussions," said Desmond Maberley, editor of Reuters in North America. "I'm not sure they've gone much beyond that."

Douglas Ruhe, one of the owners of UPI, said "it's possible that Reuters will buy UPI, but it's by no means a dunk shot."

Ruhe and co-owner William Geissler -- who have been embroiled in a battle for control of the company with the management team headed by UPI Chairman Luis Nogales and President Raymond Weschler -- said that representatives for Reuters had spoken to the two owners about two weeks ago. Reuters officials also spoke with the committee of creditors for UPI, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month, UPI sources said.

A federal bankruptcy judge yesterday approved a settlement between UPI and Prudential Insurance Co. of America assuring that more than 1,000 UPI employes would suffer no loss of medical coverage from UPI's filing for Chapter 11 protection, according to United Press International.

Ruhe would give no details of the offer for the beleaguered wire service as outlined by Reuters lawyers.

In a story yesterday, UPI quoted "UPI sources" as saying that Reuters executives have scheduled a meeting with Nogales and Weschler on Wednesday.

Reuters, which purchased UPI's foreign photo service last summer for $5 million -- much of it in deferred payments -- reportedly looked at the possibility of buying UPI three years ago when Scripps-Howard sold the company to Ruhe and Giessler.

However, during previous discussions with the British-owned news agency, owners and managers of UPI were concerned that Reuters might dismantle UPI instead of keeping it as a general news wire.

Ruhe and other UPI officials said that Reuters was only one of several companies considering the purchase of the wire service.

Several UPI officials said yesterday that the friction between the owners and managers of the wire service had delayed prospective offers and possibly confused those trying to decide who could make a sale. One top executive of a newspaper company not now in the bidding said that "it's hard to tell who to talk to over there."

However, the UPI sources said that, because of the split at the top of the company, any firm wanting to make an offer for the wire service could talk first to the creditors of UPI, as a practical matter, and then file the proposed offer with the bankruptcy court.