AMMAN, JORDAN, AUG. 4 -- Jordan's King Hussein came to the defense of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein tonight, describing him as a patriot for the majority of the Arab world and criticizing Arab condemnation of the Iraqi leader for invading Kuwait.

The Jordanian monarch, traditionally a stabilizing and moderating influence in the Middle East, appeared nearly alone among major heads of state in the region in his solidarity with Saddam, but his stand reflected strong popular support in Jordan for Iraq's seizure of Kuwait.

Interviewed by British television, Hussein said the decisions by other Arab states to condemn the Iraqi invasion were "premature" and had scuttled efforts to bring about a summit of Arab leaders in the Saudi port of Jiddah to resolve the crisis.

Asked how he could ally himself with Saddam, who is seeking to expand his influence by force through the Arab world, Hussein said: "With respect to the majority of the Arab world, President Saddam is a patriotic man who believes in his nation and its future and in establishing ties with others on the basis of mutual respect.

"If the issue here is linked to the interests of the rest of the world, there are also Arab interests that merit equal consideration," Hussein added, according to a transcript in Arabic of his remarks provided by the official Jordanian news agency, Petra.

{In Washington, a U.S. official said he was dismayed and unhappy with King Hussein's statement. "There's no rational way to explain it," the official said, adding that the king had become "a master at strategic misjudgment."}

Editorials in Jordan's leading newspapers have lashed out against the United States and what they call Kuwait's Western-oriented investment policies, holding the Persian Gulf kingdom responsible for declining oil prices and lambasting it for treating oil as a "trade and not a strategic commodity."

Ossama Shaashaa, the publisher of the newspaper ar-Rai, said many Arabs respected the Iraqi leader's determination. "King Hussein is in a difficult position," he said. "He has been closely allied with Saddam for eight years. He cannot leave him now, and we don't want him to."

With a foreign debt reaching $9 billion, Jordan is as strapped for cash as Iraq. This has inclined Hussein to be tolerant and supportive of Saddam's efforts to boost oil prices and oil revenue -- a primary motive for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Describing the Iraqi takeover of Kuwait as "very sad," Hussein said it did not, however, come "out of the blue." He said there were historical reasons for the conflict between Iraq and Kuwait. The king said the problem reached "ominous" proportions during the Arab summit in Baghdad last May until "finally, it erupted."

Hussein declined to describe his position as siding with Saddam. "I am not siding with anyone except my conscience and that of the Arab nation," he said.

The king met with the Iraqi leader Friday in Baghdad and, on his return to Amman, had cautioned against outside intervention to assist Kuwait. He told Jordanian television that any kind of retaliation against Iraq would be counterproductive and devastating for the region.

"We live in this area, and we have to organize its future for generations to come. Please give us a chance to solve our own problems," he said, adding that any attempts to interfere from outside the Arab world would "complicate matters rather than solve them."

{In an interview Saturday with NBC News, Hussein said any attempts by foreign countries to intervene in the gulf crisis "will have a very, very bad reaction and could set the whole area ablaze. There is no need for that and at the same time there is no threat to Saudi Arabia or any other Arab state."}

Hussein said reports of an Iraqi buildup on the Kuwaiti-Saudi border were distorted and pointed out that Iraq had denied its troops had entered the Neutral Zone between Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

As efforts to hold an Arab summit this weekend collapsed, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat announced they had drafted a plan to defuse tensions in the Persian Gulf.

Arafat met in Cairo today with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and reportedly briefed him on the plan. "I think Arab leaders are capable of finding a solution to this problem without any foreign interference at all," Mubarak told reporters after three hours of talks with Arafat.

The plan was drafted after Arafat visited Sanaa, the capital of Yemen; Baghdad; and Tripoli. Yemen, Jordan and the PLO all opposed Friday's Arab League resolution condemning the Iraqi invasion and demanding an immediate withdrawal. Libya walked out before the resolution was adopted.

Western diplomatic sources in Cairo said the plan appeared to be intended to prevent conservative gulf states from gathering a consensus on a condemnation of Iraq and support for punitive sanctions. The diplomats said that Saddam has used his allies effectively to create a division within the Arab leaders over the issue of the invasion.

Details of the plan were not disclosed, but well-informed Arab sources said the proposal called for the formation of an Arab disengagement force that would intercede in the Iraqi-Kuwaiti conflict. The sources also said, however, that the suggestion was somewhat "unrealistic" given the gap in positions among Arab governments on Baghdad's actions, which appeared aimed at intimidating smaller Arab states and dictating gulf oil policy.

Correspondent William Claiborne in Cairo contributed to this report.