CAIRO, AUG. 9 -- Arab leaders gathered here today in an effort to defuse the Persian Gulf crisis, but they immediately postponed their emergency summit until Friday amid indications that Egypt is seeking protracted peace negotiations to buy time and avert a military clash between Iraq and the United States.

The official reason given for the delay, after the leaders of 14 of the 21 Arab League states were welcomed ceremoniously at the Cairo airport by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, was that Mubarak and the elderly King Fahd of Saudi Arabia were tired.

Egyptian official sources said the delegations would meet informally during the night. Even without a crisis, Arab summit meetings normally are not convened until most major points of difference are at least modified in advance through quiet diplomatic contacts, and it is likely that more informal consultations might be needed to minimize any stalemate that would be evident in the glare of public attention.

The summit, called Wednesday by Mubarak, brought together for a possible face-to-face confrontation the emir of Kuwait, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah, whose nation was overrun by the Iraqi army on Aug. 2, and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's foreign minister, Tariq Aziz, and deputy president, Taha Yassin Ramadan.

However, sources close to the talks said the Iraqi delegates had raised objections to negotiating directly with the emir because they contend that he no longer has any legitimate basis for representing Kuwait. Similarly, the Kuwaiti delegation was said to have objected to talking directly with the Iraqis as long as their country remains occupied.

Egyptian sources said a consensus was being sought on several fundamental issues, including a draft declaration that the Iraq-Kuwait conflict is an intra-Arab concern and that all negotiations must be conducted without foreign participation.

Also on the agenda, the sources said, is Mubarak's proposal for the creation of a pan-Arab peace-keeping force that would be deployed in Kuwait between the Iraqi and combined U.S. and Saudi forces.

There were also suggestions by Egyptian sources that a contact group of leaders of several Arab states might be formed to explore possible avenues of compromise between Iraq and Kuwait.

Although the Arab delegations and the Egyptian government were saying almost nothing of substance about the discussions, it appeared that Mubarak's strategy is to try to maneuver the delegates into protracted negotiations in hopes of avoiding fighting during such a volatile stage of the crisis.

An Egyptian observer of the negotiations, Said Yassin, director of the al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, said a common denominator among the delegates is the desire to settle the conflict among Arabs, without foreign interference.

"We opt for negotiations, even if they are long negotiations. It is better than going to war," said Yassin, whose center is closely associated with the government. He added: "We all have condemned the invasion by Iraq, but we are very sensitive to foreign intervention. We here in Egypt were occupied for 70 years." He was referring to British rule.

Yassin cited President Bush's four justifications for sending troops to Saudi Arabia: effecting an immediate and unconditional Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, restoring the legitimate Kuwaiti government, preserving stability in the gulf, and protecting U.S. citizens in Iraq and Kuwait.

"If you analyze Bush's statement, I think the Arab summit will have no problem endorsing the four points as a package to negotiate with Saddam Hussein," Yassin said.

But he stressed that the Iraqi leader would probably have to have four of his conditions met: adjustment of the Iraq-Kuwait border; redressing what Iraq has charged is Kuwaitis' illegal pumping of oil from fields in disputed territory; forgiveness of Iraqi debt, and control over the strategically important Bubiyan and Warba islands, which dominate a waterway that Iraq wants to develop as an alternative outlet to the gulf while the Shatt al Arab on the border with Iran remains closed.

Iran said today it will reject any solution that gives Bubiyan Island to Iraq. Tehran Radio quoted Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati as saying an offer of Bubiyan to Iraq would be surrender to blackmail, and that Iran "totally rejects any change in the geography of the region."

During the Iraq-Iran war, Iraq pleaded with Kuwait to allow it to position artillery on the island.

{Iraq's ambassador to Greece said in Athens that his country would use chemical weapons if it is attacked, Reuter reported. "We possess very destructive chemical weapons, and we will use them if attacked," the ambassador, Abdel Fetah Khezreji, said at a news conference.}

Arriving shortly after the Kuwaiti and Iraqi delegations was King Fahd, who invited a U.S. military force to his kingdom to defend it against attack by more than 100,000 Iraqi troops in Kuwait.

Fahd set the tone for the conservative leaders of the Arab League when, in a speech broadcast earlier in the day by Saudi television, he condemned the invasion as "the most vile aggression known to the Arab nation in its modern history" and said that the 5,000 U.S. troops already in his country were not establishing a permanent military presence.

In his first public statement since Iraq invaded and annexed Kuwait, Fahd said the U.S. forces "are to help defend the kingdom {and} participate in joint exercises and will leave here as soon as the kingdom so demands."

He stressed that inviting Western forces to Saudi Arabia was a defensive measure and was not directed against anyone.

Referring to the invasion and the massing of Iraqi troops on the Saudi frontier, Fahd said, "Faced with this bitter reality, and out of keenness to safeguard its territory and economy . . . the kingdom expresses a desire to Arab and other friendly forces to participate."

Fahd demanded that Sabah and his ruling family be reinstalled in Kuwait, saying, "The situation must be returned to what it was before the Iraqi storming."

Sabah, dressed in flowing burgundy robes with gold trim and white Arab headdress, stepped off a Kuwaiti Airlines jet as an Egyptian Army band played his occupied country's anthem and was warmly greeted by Mubarak and other Egyptian officials.

The leaders attended a state dinner tonight before beginning their informal meetings, government officials said. All but three Arab League states -- Iraq, Morocco and Oman -- were represented at the summit by heads of state. Yemen, Mauritania and Tunisia were absent. Tunis asked for a postponement to allow time to lay the groundwork for the talks.