CAIRO, AUG. 27 -- A sense of guarded optimism about efforts toward a Persian Gulf peace settlement emerged here today as Saddam Hussein's Arab supporters pursued diplomatic initiatives containing face-saving devices for the Iraqi president.

The wide-ranging flurry of diplomatic activity included a tour of five North African countries by Jordan's King Hussein, plans by Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to meet with U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar in Amman this week and other peace missions by Sudan, Libya and Yemen.

While Arab and Western diplomats cautioned that expectations in the volatile Middle East can fall as quickly as they rise, they noted that such conservative Arab leaders as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who a week ago said there was no hope of averting a war in the Persian Gulf, now appear to be reviving hopes of a political solution.

Perez de Cuellar also stressed timeliness today in announcing his decision to meet with Aziz on Thursday. "I know the moment in which the secretary general has to jump into the arena, and now that the Security Council has adopted five resolutions, I think now is the time for diplomacy to make an effort," he said.

"We have reached such a degree of tension that I thought a personal initiative of the secretary general was totally indispensable," the Reuter news agency quoted him as telling reporters in New York.

Mubarak told Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Bozer today that Egypt will "exert all efforts and initiatives" to reach a political settlement, according to Egyptian Information Minister Safwat Sharif.

"Iraq has to reevaluate its position on a realistic basis in the light of its true capabilities and the dangers that would face the Arab people in Iraq as well as the negative and dangerous reflections it would have on the region," Sharif quoted Mubarak as saying.

Western analysts here paid particular attention to Hussein's tour of North Africa, in which he is attempting to muster an Arab consensus to persuade Iraq to commit itself to a pullout from Kuwait as an initial step toward a diplomatic solution to the crisis touched off by Iraq's invasion and annexation of its gulf neighbor.

Hussein met today with Tunisian President Zine Abidine Ben Ali, Arab League Secretary General Chadli Klibi and Bassam Abu Sharif, political adviser to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. He had talks with Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi on Sunday and is scheduled next to visit with the leaders of Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.

Ben Ali refused to attend the Aug. 10 Arab summit here that condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and sent Arab forces to defend Saudi Arabia against a possible Iraqi attack.

Libya voted against the Arab summit resolution; Algeria abstained, and Jordan, Sudan and Mauritania withheld support of the resolution by expressing "reservations." Morocco supported the resolution and has sent troops to the all-Arab force in Saudi Arabia.

"King Hussein seems to be thinking of getting support out of the Maghreb {the Arab nations of Africa's northern coast} for something that might be acceptable on a broad basis. There's a real spread there. If he pulled something together, it might have enough that other Arab leaders would have to seriously recognize it," one Western analyst said.

The analyst stressed, however, that Saddam has not yet offered any evidence of being willing to negotiate a withdrawal from Kuwait.

While Hussein has disclosed no details of his diplomatic initiative, he has described it as based on the principle of finding an alternative to the presence of U.S. and other foreign forces in the gulf region and depending instead on an "Arab solution" to the crisis.

On Aug. 19, Saddam called for a U.S. troop withdrawal from the region to be accompanied by U.N. Security Council pledges to ensure peace and security, while the "question of Kuwait" would be dealt with "by the Arabs as an Arab affair."

In Baghdad today, Arafat and Saddam reached "total agreement on the need to put an end to foreign intervention in the Arab region and the importance of finding an adequate solution to the crisis within the Arab fold in a way that would safeguard Arab unity and reinforce the struggle to recover the rights of the Palestinian people," the PLO news agency WAFA reported, according to Reuter.

Peace plans floated by other allies of Iraq, including Gadhafi, have called for withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait; free election of a new Kuwaiti government; replacement of foreign forces in the Arabian peninsula with Arab peace-keeping forces and cash compensation to Iraq for losses it claims to have incurred as a result of Kuwait's over-production of oil or its pumping from disputed territory.

Diplomatic sources said that such a peace plan would be certain to encounter opposition from the United States, which has said that any negotiated settlement would have to include not only an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, but also the restoration of the deposed Kuwaiti ruling family, led by emir Jabir Ahmed Sabah. The Bush administration has also demanded guarantees for the safety of Americans and other Westerners in Iraq and occupied Kuwait and assurances for future stability in the gulf region and its oil fields.

Complicating prospects for a political solution within the framework of the Arab world is the question of what role the deeply divided 21-nation Arab League would play in any settlement, analysts said.

Diplomats said some Arab leaders who voted for the Aug. 10 resolution may feel that reintroducing the question now could revive the divisions that nearly broke up that meeting. Acrimonious debate at that gathering forced the leaders to dispense with normal rules and allow adoption of the measures by simple majority vote instead of unanimity.

Still beset by sharp differences over how to respond to the Iraqi invasion, the Arab League been unable so far to muster a quorum for an emergency meeting of its foreign ministers this week. The ministerial meeting is viewed by some analysts as an important element of Egypt's strategy of keeping diplomatic pressure on Iraq and preventing Saddam from diverting attention from the central issue -- the unacceptability of any nation's seizing another's territory by force.

As Hussein flew to the Maghreb Sunday on the first leg of his shuttle, Sudanese leader Omar Hassan Bashir and two senior Libyan envoys flew to Baghdad to talk with Saddam about the possibility of launching an Arab peace drive.

"We are trying to crystalize an Arab initiative," Bashir said during a stopover in Amman. After meeting with Bashir at the airport, Jordan's Crown Prince Hassan told reporters: "There has been a positive response on the part of Baghdad, which effectively is seeking to negotiate."

Hassan said Jordan was seeking a "centrist" Arab position to promote a peace settlement.

The official Yemeni news agency, Saba, reported that Yemen, another of Iraq's Arab allies, is sending envoys to Moscow, Tehran and the United Arab Emirates in an attempt to seek a political solution.

They are expected to deliver messages from Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Salih and discuss steps to avert a military confrontation in the gulf, the agency said.

Meanwhile, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, in talks in Moscow today with Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel-Meguid, said the situation in the gulf region had become extremely dangerous, the Soviet news agency Tass reported. It quoted him as saying: "Iraq should draw the right conclusions from the solidarity expressed by the world community and should not deepen the crisis."