ONE GOAL of the extraordinary coalition that Iraq's invasion forged, the defense of Saudi Arabia, has already been accomplished without diplomacy -- by military action alone. But barring some incident or escalation, in which case all bets are off, the coalition's second goal of liberating Kuwait seems unlikely to be reached by military means. It will take pressure from the coalition of Iraq's adversaries and, in consequence, Iraqi consent. This is the essential diplomatic goal now.

To achieve it, some say Iraq should be paid off -- by debt forgiveness and new grants, for instance, or by keeping the old Kuwaiti government from resuming power. To enter a negotiation offering to pay off the aggressor, however, is unthinkable. The position affirmed by a unanimous United Nations, that withdrawal should be immediate and unconditional, is the right one. That leaves to negotiation the timetable and modalities of withdrawal. Iraq's concerns -- the embargo, the military buildup, whatever -- come after that.

The prospect of negotiation is also forcing the issue of whether to add further goals to the diplomats' instructions, like removing Saddam Hussein or defanging Iraq's military power, especially its chemical and nuclear facilities. A realistic view of Iraq's menacing nature has been spread by the crisis, and is cited by those who would lengthen the list of negotiating goals. The additional objectives are immensely desirable. To add them now, however, could outpace and dilute the policy consensus developed at the United Nations and perhaps the American domestic consensus as well, giving the Iraqis extra incentive to hang tough. More study is needed of the alternatives to isolating Iraq until its leadership falls and its war-making capacity is neutralized. A political shift in Baghdad is one possibility. Construction of new Gulf regional security arrangements is another; this is going to be necessary anyway.

Meanwhile, there is the elementary problem of credibility. That Iraq promised to let 55 Americans go to Turkey, and held back three, is typical of the treachery it has displayed through the crisis. Saddam Hussein comes into this new diplomatic round with a real problem -- beyond the problems imposed by the allied buildup, embargo and resistance. Nobody trusts him and nobody believes him. If there is going to be any kind of negotiation at all, he is the one with the proving to do.