The United States and many other nations, voicing growing concern for the safety of their citizens trapped in Iraq and Kuwait, yesterday rejected an Iraqi demand that all foreign governments close their embassies in Kuwait within two weeks.

The 12-nation European Community, in a meeting of its foreign ministers in Brussels, rejected Iraq's annexation of Kuwait as null and void.

"The same applies to the announced removal of diplomatic missions from Kuwait, and to any attempt by the Iraqi authorities to exert powers of government within the territory of Kuwait," the EC said in a statement. Iraq had set Aug. 24 as a deadline for removal of all foreign missions from Kuwait to Baghdad.

Japan's top government spokesman said Japan refused to move its embassy, calling the declared annexation a violation of international law.

"The Iraqi request is out of the question. There is no meaning to the deadline they set," Chief Cabinet Secretary Misoji Sakamoto said at a news conference in Tokyo.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, asked for the U.S. reaction to Iraq's demand, said in Brussels that the administration was reviewing a formal response. "Let me simply say that of course we do not recognize and we condemn and view as null and void the so-called annexation of Kuwait by Iraq."

State Department officials in Washington said the United States likely would ignore the Iraqi demand. "They'll not willingly leave. If they {the Iraqis} choose to close the embassy, they'll have to drag us out by force."

The Soviet Union issued no formal statement, but an embassy spokesman in Washington said the Soviets "did not recognize the annexation" so they likely would consider the Iraqi demand to be "illegal."

Despite the strong diplomatic stances against Iraq, U.S. and European officials acknowledged that sporadic reports of violence and looting in Kuwait caused deepening concern for the safety of their citizens there.

President Bush -- speaking to reporters on Air Force One en route to his summer home in Kennebunkport, Maine -- said "there have been very disturbing reports of violence against . . . citizens of all . . . of several countries and there was a report of a British airline stewardess having been violated and humiliated by Iraq's soldiers."

"I think all countries are concerned about the safety of their citizens, and part of any planning has to be about how to protect citizens . . . . So, it worries me because I do view it as a prime responsibility."

Although the administration insists that neither the 38 Americans held in the Al Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, or the other thousands of Americans in Iraq and Kuwait are hostages, some relatives were becoming increasingly frustrated.

"They may not be called hostages but in reality they are," said the Rev. Edwin Davis of Koran, La., whose daughter and two grandchildren are trapped in Kuwait, where they were visiting a relative.

"We're just waiting, hoping, praying," he told the Associated Press. "I believe they will use those hostages as a shield. It's his ace in the hole."

The only Americans known specifically to be detained under guard are those in the Baghdad hotel, but neither they nor any of the other 580 Americans in Iraq appear in danger, according to reports.

Two Americans working as supervisors on an irrigation project in northern Iraq called their employer in Nebraska yesterday to say they are meeting frequently with representatives of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad but can't find a way out of the country.

"The embassy apparently told them it's useless to try to get out with or without a visa," said Brian Stanley, vice president of corporate communications for Valmont Industries in Valley, Neb. "They didn't have any advice for them at this time."

The company hadn't heard from the two Americans until Mike Nickman, 36, called Monday, after driving from the irrigation project to Baghdad to consult at embassy. He returned to the construction camp near Mosul for two co-workers, an American from Pennsylvania who has not been identified and a Yugoslavian national.

"They say they're fine," Stanley said. "They seem to have free movement within the country."

Nickman, recently returned from a vacation, also telephoned his mother in Grand Island, Neb. He has spent about six months in Iraq.

The irrigation project, started this year, was 12 years in planning because of the Iran-Iraq war.

U.S. officials said they are more concerned about the estimated 3,000 Americans trapped inside Kuwait, than they are about those in Iraq.

In Kuwait, invading Iraqi soldiers reportedly have committed a number of acts of violence against foreigners and looted homes and commercial establishments.

Another cause for concern is the increasing scarcity of food in Kuwait, although State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said "my understanding is there is food to be bought for the somewhat enterprising people. It's not normal city life, but there is food for people."

A spokesman for the West German Embassy in Washington said the situation in the two countries was "somewhat unstable" and there was concern for the 5,000 to 6,000 West German residents in Iraq and 350 in Kuwait.

"We have heard there has been looting in some areas. The situation is very worrying," he said.

Egyptian officials said yesterday there had been several instances of Iraqi brutality toward Egyptians in Kuwait, including an incident in which two Epytians were forced from their car at a checkpoint and severely beaten.

Sources at the Egyptian Embassy here said Egypt would face a major domestic problem if Iraq expelled the more than 1 million Egyptian nationals who live and work in Iraq. The Egyptians moved there to fill jobs vacated by soldiers fighting in the Iran-Iraq war.

"If large numbers are expelled suddenly, we have a big problem on our hands," one source said. "We would be swamped with thousands and thousands of people which we would not be able to accommodate."