The European Community asked the United States today to extend for four months its July 31 deadline for settlement of the so-called pasta war between the United States and Europe.

Last November, the United States slapped sharply higher duties on European pasta exports to retaliate against preferential tariffs Europe grants Mediterranean citrus growers such as Israel and Morocco. The United States claims the preferential treatment hurts U.S. citrus exporters.

The EC says the tariffs must be seen as part of its aid program for economically weak Mediterranean countries.

The pasta dispute is also delaying the American signature on an accord with the European Community on semi-finished steel.

Agreement on the two issues would bring at least a semblance of trade peace between Washington and Brussels. Earlier this month they reached an interim settlement on a dispute over U.S. farm exports to Spain and Portugal.

U.S. officials in Brussels had said that American and community negotiators made substantial progress in talks on the pasta war dispute here that ended Friday.

"As far as we are concerned, we haven't finished negotiating," said a U.S. trade official in Washington. "We want to continue trying to reach an agreement."

There were indications, moreover, that U.S. trade representative Clayton Yeutter was drafting a new offer Tuesday night.

But a spokesman for the EC said today that the United States was unable to satisfy a key community condition for settlement of the problem, which involves recognition of the preferential trade terms the community grants Mediterranean countries -- in this case allowing citrus producers such as Morocco and Israel special access to Europe.

EC trade commissioner Willy de Clercq telephoned Yeutter earlier today to propose a four-month extension of the American deadline and the withdrawal of retaliatory steps both sides took last November after negotiations during an earlier truce failed to solve the question, the EC spokesman said.

In November, after negotiations failed to settle the dispute on citrus products, the United States raised tariffs on EC pasta exports by 25 percent to 40 percent, and the community retaliated with higher tariffs on U.S. lemons and walnuts.

The community also sharply raised subsidies for its pasta exporters to compensate for the higher U.S. tariffs.