BRUSSELS, AUG. 10 -- North Atlantic Treaty Organization foreign ministers today unanimously backed U.S. military moves to confront Iraqi aggression in the Persian Gulf but steered clear of any collective military action by the alliance itself.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, warning that "the world could be plunged into a new dark age" if Iraqis prevailed, urged the foreign ministers to adapt the alliance to a threat beyond its traditional East-West arena. "A new danger has arisen, coming from a distant place but with the capacity to strike all of us," he said.

Baker urged NATO members to contribute forces to the multinational defense effort being assembled to defend Saudi Arabia. He said an international naval blockade in the Persian Gulf was "certainly a possibility," but that sanctions approved by the United Nations should first be given time to work.

As Baker flew back to Washington, a senior State Department official was asked by reporters whether other European allies would commit ground forces to the multinational deployment being assembled to defend Saudi Arabia. "You will see other allies providing forces, including some to augment the U.S. and Arab states that have committed forces at this point," the official said.

Despite Washington's hopes for a multinational effort to help the Saudis, as of today, only the United States has provided ground troops.

On the question of a possible naval blockade to enforce the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq and occupied Kuwait, the official said a blockade was still under consideration. The official said the administration has concluded it would not need U.N. approval for such an action, only a request from the exiled leaders of Kuwait.

If the Iraqis "can't sell their oil, you don't need a blockade," the official said. He added that if goods do not move in and out, "you have a pretty effective sanctions regime."

NATO Secretary General Manfred Woerner said after the meeting of foreign ministers that a "full consensus" had been reached among the allies about the need to meet Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's challenge to their "national and collective security." The alliance, Woerner said, demanded nothing less than the complete withdrawal of Iraqi forces and restoration of Kuwait's sovereignty.

Woerner also declared that the 16 allied countries strongly reaffirmed their commitment to defend fellow member Turkey under the terms of the NATO treaty if that nation were attacked by Iraq. On Wednesday, Turkey, in response to the U.N. sanctions, announced it would halt shipments of oil from the Mediterranean end of twin Iraqi pipelines that pass through Turkey.

Woerner also stressed that the NATO members backed the U.S.-led multinational buildup in the gulf and had promised to contribute "each in its own way."

{Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney announced today that Canada plans to send three ships and 800 sailors to the Persian Gulf as its contribution to the multi-nation force.}

A new source of concern for all of the ministers here was the fate of thousands of foreign nationals unable to leave Iraq and Iraqi-held Kuwait since Iraq closed the borders of the two countries Thursday. Baker said the United States does not consider the Americans involved, including 38 being held in a Baghdad hotel, to be hostages and said talks with Iraq are continuing about their status, but so far it appears they have "not been mistreated."

Italian Foreign Minister Gianni di Michelis, who chaired a separate session earlier today of the 12 European Community foreign ministers, said the members had unanimously rejected Iraq's annexation of Kuwait and the announced removal of diplomatic missions there.

Several European ministers stressed the need to provide time for the U.N. economic sanctions to deprive Iraq of any trade with the outside world. Those ministers seemed intent on tempering the impact of the massive U.S. military buildup now occurring in Saudi Arabia. The European ministers expressed support for the continuing diplomatic effort by Arab nations to resolve the crisis, but few expected it to succeed.

The NATO members showed clear reluctance to place their forces in the gulf under any single authority. Baker acknowledged that if there is a naval blockade, "there will have to be a traffic cop." How the military forces would be coordinated, either in a blockade or in the multinational force being formed in Saudi Arabia has been discussed but not yet resolved, he said.

Britain has announced its decision to send air and naval units to Saudi Arabia in support of the multinational force. There will be about 1,000 British personnel involved, most of them support staff to maintain the two squadrons of fighter jets or to maintain the Rapier antiaircraft missile systems sent in to protect the planes.

Italy, Spain and Portugal are providing logistical help for the U.S. buildup, and France is also upgrading its presence in the region but has insisted that its orders will come from French officers if any actions are to be carried out.

West Germany said today that it is sending four or five minesweepers and a supply ship to the Mediterranean in case Iraq tries to mine shipping lanes there. It left open the possibility of the ships sailing to the Persian Gulf area.

The Soviets, who have cut off arms sales to Iraq and vowed to abide by the U.N. sanctions, have insisted that any military response to Iraqi aggression be conducted under U.N. supervision. Following the NATO meeting, Baker met with the Soviet ambassador to Belgium, who has been designated as Moscow's liaison with NATO, to brief him.

Some U.S. officials had expressed hope before the meeting that the NATO ministers would agree on a formal communique spelling out their commitment to expand the responsibilities of the alliance in the wake of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait. However, only the secretary general's summary of their conclusions was released, rather than a joint statement.

The hesitation shown by the allies to place forces under a joint command, presumably with U.S. leadership, reflected a growing concern in Europe that the conflict in the Persian Gulf could become protracted if Iraqi troops consolidate their hold on Kuwait and avoid any further aggression that could trigger a massive military retaliation by Western-backed forces.

Nonetheless, European states are aware that their dependence on gulf oil supplies, which is much greater than U.S. dependence, requires a firm stance in defense of their own national interests.

Washington Post London correspondent Glenn Frankel contributed to this report.