UNITED NATIONS, AUG. 21 -- The United States today braked its drive for the Security Council to permit U.N. members to use military action in enforcing the world body's sanctions against Iraq.

After encountering strong resentment among smaller countries over alleged big-power pressure, the United States, Britain and France backed away from their original timetable of getting a resolution on military action through the council today.

Instead, diplomatic sources said, the five permanent council members -- the United States, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China -- will continue to seek a draft resolution capable of attracting the broadest possible support among the 159 U.N. members. The sources said the tentative hope is to have the draft ready by Wednesday, but the Western powers were willing to wait longer if necessary.

The new U.S. tack was laid out by White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, who told reporters accompanying President Bush in Maine that the United Nations has been "steadfast and courageous" in its resistance to Iraq's invasion of neighboring Kuwait.

"We have every reason to believe they will be equally strong in coming up with a resolution on enforcement," Fitzwater added. "But it does take a lot of time for consultations. We want to give it as much time as necessary to work but not so much time that it allows any gaps to appear in the enforcement of these sanctions. . . . We will push for action as soon as possible."

However, the sources said, conflicting information about the status of two Iraqi tankers in the vicinity of Yemen could revive the urgency evident here Monday.

In four hours of talks that ended early this morning, the United States argued unsuccessfully for immediate adoption of a resolution putting a U.N. stamp of approval on possible action to prevent the two ships from evading the sanctions.

The informal meeting began with U.S. diplomats apparently assured that four of the permanent members would support a resolution allowing "minimum use of force" and that the fifth, China, would at least abstain.

However, sources familiar with the discusssions said that members of the Nonaligned Movement among the Security Council's seven temporary members were reluctant to approve what would be the first U.N.-sanctioned military action since the Korean War began in 1950.

According to the sources, these countries resent what they regard as a U.S. attempt to have the United Nations give an international character to naval interdiction measures that the United States and its allies already have put into effect in the Persian Gulf and nearby waters.

Their reluctance to act so quickly was reinforced by assurances from Yemen, which is a temporary council member, that it will observe the sanctions.

That forced the United States and its allies to conclude that a resolution vote, at best, would have produced only a bare majority of support and that the desire to show strong, across-the-board backing required more effort.

Confusing the situation, though, were reports from the region saying that one of the Iraqi tankers had docked in the Yemeni port of Aden and was being unloaded. That was denied by Yemen's ambassador here, Abdalla Saleh Ashtal, who said:

"It is not true. The vessel is docked, but it did not offload or onload. That's the information I have."

Fitzwater and U.S. officials here said they have been given similar information but are monitoring the situation closely. The U.S. officials also said that if it becomes clear that Iraq is using divisions among U.N. members about military action to evade the sanctions, the United States will not hesitate to go back to the council and argue that there can be no further delay about authorizing some use of force.