U.S. Ambassor James Kirkpatrick and Iraqi Foreign Minister Saadoun Hammadi met three separate times today in last-ditch efforts to find a compromise U.N. resolution that would condemn Israel's attack on an Iraqi nuclear reactor without imposing mandatory sanctions.

Following their final talks of the day, Kirkpatrick said she and the Iraqi minister agreed on "tentative language" for a resolution that she will refer back to Washington for advice in hopes of getting a definitive accord at another negotiating session with Hammadi Thursday morning. Hammadi said the morning meeting will tell the difference between "consensus or breakdown."

Diplomats involved in the talks said later that the U.S. and Iraqi negotiators were nearing agreement on a resolution that would not include a specific demand for sanctions, indicating that Iraq is at least willing to consider dropping its earlier insistence on mandatory sanctions to punish Israel for the June 7 raid.

Meeting of high-level U.S. and Iraqi officials have been rare in recent years of estranged relations. There have been signs in recent months of a possible warning between Baghdad and Washington. But the raid on the Iraqi reactor, which involved U.S.-made aircraft, threatens to slow or perhaps even halt that process.

The U.S. objective, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the talks, is to avert an American veto in the U.N. Security Council that would further damage relations with the Arab world already shaken by the raid, which destroyed the Osirak reactor outside Baghdad.

For Iraq, diplomats say, condemnation would be tangible proof of international support for their position on the Israeli attack. The alternative objective for Baghdad, they say, would be international isolation of the United States at the side of Israel.

But this seems to have been ruled out when Western European members of the Security Council -- Britain, France and Ireland -- made clear they, too, might vote against a call for sanctions, or abstain at the very least.

As a further inducement to compromise, Western diplomats said, the United States has told Iraq that Washington could accept a resolution calling on Israel to pay compensation for the damage, and urging the Israelis to open their own nuclear facilities to international inspection and safeguards by adhering to the Nuclear Nonprolifeation Treaty. Israel has already rejected compensation.

It remains unclear whether this will be enough of a diplomatic trophy for Hammadi to bring home to Baghdad.

American officials continued to insist they would veto a text that contains even an oblique reference to the U.N. Chapter articles under which sanctions are imposed.

Kirkpatrick, who has still not spoken in the five-day council debate, told reporters this afternoon that "the speech is a lot less important than finding a consensus resolution." The implication was that a U.S. speech which takes a harsh view of the Israeli raid could be one of Iraq's rewards for compromise.

Later, Kirkpatrick said, "The process of discussion with Iraq is still going on actively" and there are "still hopes for a consensus."

A vote in the 15-nation council could come Thursday after the morning negotiating session between Kirkpatrick and Hammandi. Hammadi has said he has firm plans to leave New York Friday.

Among Thursday's scheduled speakers is Sigvard Eklund, director general of the U.N.'s international Atomic Energy Agency, who has already challenged Israel's claim that the Iraqi reactor could have been used in the production of atomic weapons.

Israeli ambassador Yehuda Blum, who has avoided any reference to Israel's own atomic capabilities, is expected to respond to Eklund, and finally speak out in defense of his country's decision not to sign the non-proliferation treaty.