Four members of the U.N. Security Council yesterday questioned the Bush administration's decision to proceed unilaterally with a naval blockade of Iraq as the United States was putting the final touches on instructions for U.S. warships on how to "interdict" all shipping to and from Iraqi ports.

As the questions arose, Britain and Australia announced that they would join an active naval quarantine of Iraq, but France said yesterday that it would not participate because to do so would make it a "co-belligerent."

Meanwhile, an administration official said U.S. intelligence has monitored two Syrian army divisions moving toward the border with Iraq, a step requested of Syrian President Hafez Assad by the Bush administration. The official also said that Egyptian authorities said they were willing to send two army divisions, totaling more than 30,000 combat troops, to supplement their initial deployment of about 3,000 last weekend to Saudi Arabia. Egypt and Morocco have asked for U.S. help in transporting their forces to Saudi Arabia.

During yesterday's informal, closed-door session of the 15-member Security Council, France, Canada, the Soviet Union and Malaysia sharply criticized Secretary of State James A. Baker III's announcement that the United States would stop or turn away ships bound to and from the ports of Iraq and Kuwait, U.N. sources said.

The Soviet Union had previously said it would not allow its naval forces to participate in a blockade unless it was authorized by the United Nations.

Later, U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar told reporters that "only the United Nations, through its Security Council resolutions, can really decide about a blockade."

The United Nations is awaiting reports from members on compliance with the trade ban before considering further steps, including U.N. military action such as a blockade.

The controversy of the U.S. military planning emerged as Saudi Arabia prevented the first Iraqi supertanker from loading crude oil at the Iraqi pipeline terminal on the Saudi Red Sea coast. The tanker, the al-Qaddisiyah, was denied tugboat and mooring assistance. Saudi naval forces did not come into play.

The Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney will leave Friday for another visit to Saudi Arabia, this time to visit U.S. troops on the ground and consult with Saudi officials. He may also visit other Arab countries.

The Soviet Union announced yesterday that it had reached an agreement with Iraq to evacuate the families of about 2,000 military advisers and technicians working in Iraq and all 880 Soviet citizens in Kuwait.

U.S. officials feared that Soviet efforts to extract its nationals from Iraq would complicate Washington's attempts to win Soviet cooperation to transport Arab multinational forces to Saudi Arabia.

Efforts to free the Americans still trapped in Kuwait and Iraq made no progress. The State Department called Iraqi bureaucratic procedures blocking their departure "unacceptable." All 120 U.S. diplomats and their dependents in Kuwait have moved into the walled compound that is under guard by Iraqi occupation forces.

Discussing the U.S.-led drive to block all commerce in and out of Iraq and Kuwait, an administration official said naval officers from the United States, Britain and possibly several others nations will convene a meeting in Alexandria, Egypt, in about 10 days to coordinate their plans for what amounts to a multinational blockade.

A U.S. official, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that "a number of members took the position that no country can unilaterally implement the U.N. {sanctions} resolution. The general line was concern or criticism of the United States for going too fast. . . . Most countries want to go to extraordinary lengths to avoid conflict."

The U.N. sources said the critics argued that only the Security Council, operating under Article 42 of the charter, can authorize military action to deal with a threat to international peace such as that caused by Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. According to the sources, the critical countries think that council members should wait to see if the embargo is working effectively before considering ways to enforce it militarily.

Baker said Sunday that the U.S. decision was made in response to a request for help from Kuwait's deposed emir, Jabir Ahmed Sabah, under the charter's Article 51, which allows a state under attack to engage in collective self-defense against aggression.

While U.S. officials continued to avoid using the term "blockade" to describe the thrust of the U.S. naval action following the United Nations' total trade embargo against Iraq, other countries who have announced their participation, including Britain and Australia, have openly called the enforcement effort a blockade.

"The purpose of the embargo is to put the pinch on them," said White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater, speaking to reporters in Kennebunkport, Maine, where President Bush is vacationing. He said the enforcement of an embargo would prevent the Iraqis from maintaining their "war machine," which now comprises a fielded army of up to 250,000 troops in Kuwait and southern Iraq.

Twelve days after the crisis began, senior U.S. officials and mid-level task forces were working virtually around the clock to secure the release of thousands of Americans trapped by the invasion and to work out the complex mechanics of implementing last week's trade embargo vote of the Security Council.

The Defense Department's policy undersecretary, Paul D. Wolfowitz, returned from a round of consultations with Arab leaders, and Assistant Secretary of State John H. Kelly was dispatched for new consultations in Cairo, Riyadh and Damascus.

In Washington, Saudi Ambassador Prince Bandar bin Sultan said the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will convene a meeting in the near future to make adjustments in production quotas to meet any shortages resulting from the embargo against Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil.

In Kuwait, reports from eyewitnesses who fled the war zone indicate that organized resistance has diminished in recent days, but anti-Iraqi demonstrations continue. The London-based Financial Times reported that four people, including a girl carrying a Kuwaiti flag, were killed by gunfire during one such demonstration last week.

Other sources said Kuwaitis had torn down many of the street signs in Kuwait's capital to confuse Iraqi troops.

State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler said that as many as 500 Americans may have fled Kuwait since Iraq overran it Aug. 2, most of them in the first days after the invasion. She revised the estimate of Americans in Kuwait from the earlier figure of more than 3,000 to about 2,500 private citizens and 120 U.S. diplomats and their dependents.

Tutwiler declined to speculate how U.S. citizens might be escaping from the country, but numerous news media reports have referred to a stream of expatriate departures along the desert highways south to the border with Saudi Arabia.

Tutwiler said an erroneous U.S. media report that Iraq had opened border crossings out of Kuwait and Iraq prompted between 40 and 50 carloads of Americans to drive to the Kuwaiti-Saudi border, where they were turned back.

In Baghdad, U.S. Embassy personnel were free to move around the city, she said, but "food is getting in short supply." However, there were other reports that Iraq has been able to import food and other commodities despite the embargo.

American businessmen who traveled from Amman, Jordan, to the Iraqi border said they saw at least 100 trucks waiting to enter Iraq, Washington Post correspondent Nora Boustany reported from Amman. A huge shipment of sugar, ordered several weeks ago, was entering Iraq, Boustany said. And trucks carrying Iraqi goods were seen yesterday passing into Jordan at the rate of 15 or 20 an hour.

At Jordan's seaport at Aqaba, which has been used to supply Iraq in the past, witnesses said they detected no slowdown of normal commercial activity, but it was not possible to determine how much of that commerce was serving Iraq.

U.S. officials have said they might have to take action against Iraqi cargoes entering or leaving the Jordanian seaport, a prospect that would further strain the already difficult relationship between Amman and Washington.

U.S. intelligence officials were monitoring a number of ships on the high seas that might be destined for Iraq. One Iraqi-registered ship, the Balqees, was reported to be carrying a cargo of Polish arms purchased by Iraq. One official said the ship has left Tripoli and is bound for the Suez Canal. U.S. officials have warned Egypt of its approach, saying the vessel poses a danger to the canal if it were scuttled in the strategic waterway. They added that the Balqees also could threaten the U.S. interdiction effort if it seeks to deliver the arms at Aqaba.

Though France declined to cooperate for now with a U.S. "interdiction" effort, a U.S. official said France was being "helpful in a general way" by supplying Washington with new information on its extensive arms sales to Iraq, including sophisticated Mirage F-1 aircraft, Exocet missiles, and Super Frelon attack helicopters that may be used against American forces if combat erupts.

"We had a good understanding anyway of how these weapons operate," the official said.

Another official said that the French information included details of Exocet missile radar systems that will facilitate tracking by the naval vessels that would be targeted by such weapons.

For much of the past decade, France was the second-largest supplier of conventional arms to Iraq, a circumstance that has provoked criticism in Paris since the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. The Soviet Union, Iraq's major supplier, has recently given Washington some information on the number of weapons purchased by Baghdad, but not their military capabilities, the U.S. official said.

China has also confirmed some U.S. information about its sales of Silkworm antiship missiles to Iraq. Silkworm launchers and missiles have recently been installed on Kuwait's southern coast by the invading Iraqi force, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Staff writers Dan Balz, John M. Goshko, Molly Moore, Keith Kendrick and R. Jeffrey Smith and special correspondent Trevor Rowe contributed to this report.