The State Department acknowledged yesterday that Iraq has now defined the thousands of Americans and other foreigners trapped there and in Kuwait as "restrictees" who will be used as bargaining chips or shields until the conflict is over.

Spokesman Margaret Tutwiler said Iraq also appears to be including U.S. diplomats for the first time in the category of those who are being detained. Iraqi officials said last week that diplomats and their dependents could leave after a seven-day waiting period. But Tutwiler said a group in Baghdad that applied a week ago has not been allowed to go.

"I have no reason to believe that those diplomats will be allowed to leave today," she said. "I can't speak for the future." She said Iraq had told the U.S. charge d'affairs in Baghdad yesterday that "a new set of conditions" or guidelines was being drawn with regard to the diplomats but it was not known what the new rules would be.

Tutwiler said the word "restrictees" was "pure semantics. . . . It doesn't change the facts. Frankly, they are finally admitting behavior which is contrary to all international norms."

There were other signs yesterday that the Iraqi position against allowing most foreigners to leave was hardening.

The Soviet Union, which has about 9,000 citizens in Iraq, has been saying for days that Iraqi officials agreed to allow all Soviets to leave. Yesterday, however, the Soviet Foreign Ministry said Iraq had changed its mind and would allow only Soviet women, children and invalids out, leaving more than 5,000 men trapped, Washington Post correspondent Michael Dobbs reported from Moscow.

The move left Soviet men in the same position as those from Western countries, reflecting the abrupt deterioration in Soviet relations with Iraq, once Moscow's closest ally in the Persian Gulf.

"I would not want to use the word hostages," Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Yuri Gremitskikh said at a news conference in Moscow. Gremitskikh, echoing the words of State Department officials, said, "We hope Iraq does not consider our citizens hostages and we do not want to see them as hostages."

Other nations with huge numbers of people trapped in Iraq and Kuwait have been searching for a common approach on how to deal with the problem. A State Department senior official yesterday said that India has more than 150,000 citizens in those countries and their detention has become a major domestic political problem in India.

The extent of India's concern was reflected by a visit Tuesday by Indian Foreign Minister I.K. Gujral to Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in Moscow, followed by a 90-minute meeting here yesterday with Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Gujral expressed a willingness to cooperate in any way with efforts to safeguard foreigners, the official said.

U.S. officials estimate there are about 2,500 Americans in Kuwait and 500 in Iraq. But some officials point out that while that may be a rough count of the number of holders of U.S. passports, it includes many, including Palestinians, Egyptians and Kuwaitis, who may have dual citizenship.

One official said there were very few American businessmen or workers in Iraq, and that the vast majority of the 500 listed as Americans are likely to be American women married to Iraqi men who were forced by Iraqi law to become Iraqi citizens. The State Department considers them U.S. citizens, but believes they probably would not want to leave the country even if all foreigners are given permission. Also included in that total are children born in the United States to Iraqi citizens.

In an interview that was broadcast on ABC's "Nightline" last night, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tareq Aziz said the status of the Americans would be decided soon and that no harm would come to them, Reuter reported. Restricting them to their homes or hotels is "temporary. They are going to be considered in, I hope, a short time to come," he said.

Relatives of Americans trapped in Iraq and Kuwait remained optimistic.

Patricia Hale of Spring, Tex., whose husband, Edward, is among the oil workers being held in Baghdad, said she refused to become pessimistic.

"They're still not called hostages, let's get this straight," she said. "It's something we have to deal with day by day, but I still look forward to seeing this settled, real soon . . . . I really feel that everything is going to work out."

Both Hale and the family of Fred F. Harrington, a businessman from Redmond, Wash., who is also being held at the Al-Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, received messages yesterday sent through the U.S. Embassy.

Connie Ogle, whose father-in-law, Rainard Walterscheid, is another one of the trapped oil workers, said calling the Americans "restrictees" had not changed the family's concerns. "It's the same to me," she said. "We've always considered him a hostage. {Restrictee} that's just another way of putting it."

Staff writer Bill McAllister contributed to this report.

The State and Defense departments will not define the terms they use to describe the military buildup in the Persian Gulf. The definitions listed here were compiled from Webster's New World Dictionary.

Blockade: To shut off the port or region of a belligerent state in order to prevent passage in or out in time of war.

Embargo: To prohibit the entry or departure of commercial ships through government order.

Interdict: To impede, hinder or isolate an enemy through threat or use of force.

Impose sanctions: To use collective action to force a nation that has violated international law into ending the violation.