U.S. warships are interrogating up to 75 commercial ships daily in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea and "shipping has dropped off significantly," a senior U.S. naval commander said yesterday, as Arab officials attempted to get sluggish diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis underway.

"It appears . . . the economic embargo is working extremely well," said Rear Adm. Jerry Unruh, commander of the aircraft carrier battle group led by the USS Independence in the Gulf of Oman, just outside the Persian Gulf. Besides the drop in cargo shipping, he said, "we do not see oil flowing . . . out of Iraq as it once was."

U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz delayed the start of their talks in Amman, Jordan, a day, until today, at Iraq's request. In Cairo, foreign ministers of a deeply divided Arab League adjourned last night without reaching a unified position on pressing Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. They agreed to try again today.

Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, in a message the official Tass news agency described as urgent, called on the Arab foreign ministers to reach agreement, saying that their "ability to unite at a critical moment largely determines whether or not a war in the Middle East can be averted," Reuter reported from Moscow.

In another indication of the growing concern over the crisis in the gulf region, Britain announced that Parliament will be recalled from its summer recess next week to debate the situation -- the first such recall since the Falklands War in 1982.

Unruh told pool reporters aboard the carrier that the commercial ships are being questioned by radio. U.S. sailors have boarded only "five or six" -- the most recent one Wednesday -- since the intercept operation to enforce the U.N. trade embargo against Iraq began, he said.

Unruh added, "There has been no difficulty to this point, no hostilities, no shots fired in anger." He said that when Iraqi ships are questioned by radio, "they have proceeded to areas where they have anchored and not unloaded their cargo."

He said many of the 300 commercial ships now operating in the Middle East region are at anchor because of the embargo and the uncertainty in the region.

U.S. naval officials said virtually every ship plying the waters in the gulf region is questioned by radio and asked to state its cargo load, point of origin and destination.

During the first days of the trade embargo, U.S. warships fired warning shots across the bows of two trading vessels that refused to stop. Both of those ships are now anchored off the coast of Yemen, officials said.

Unruh said the international fleet enforcing the embargo in the Persian Gulf area now numbers more than 70 warships but he said the ships remain "strictly under the control of their separate nations."

U.S. Navy commanders said Iraqi aircraft are maintaining a safe distance from American warships and planes.

"We don't see a lot of Iraqi air activity," said Capt. Jay Yakeley, commander of the carrier's air wing. "From what we have been told and are seeing, they are staying in their borders. They are being very conservative."

The Independence is operating in the Gulf of Oman, outside the Persian Gulf, sending F-14 fighters and F-18 attack jets to the northern section of the gulf, near Kuwait's border, to protect American ships from possible attack.

A second carrier group, led by the USS Saratoga, is operating in the Red Sea.

Unruh said the Navy's mission is directed at protecting shipping and enforcing the trade embargo, and the ship's aircraft are told to avoid aggressive action against Iraq. "As the countries negotiate and try to work out a peaceful solution," he said, "it certainly isn't appropriate for us to go and poke in and start pushing him {Iraqi President Saddam Hussein} out."

In Cairo, in an Arab League meeting boycotted by all but one of the nine member states that have backed Saddam, the foreign ministers appointed a six-nation committee to draft a resolution for consideration today.

The committee is not expected to do more than produce a condemnatory resolution similar to one adopted by a majority of the 21 Arab League heads of state on Aug. 10, when the body created an all-Arab deterrent force to help Saudi Arabia defend itself against a possible attack by Iraqi forces that invaded Kuwait Aug. 2.

Libya, the only pro-Baghdad state represented at last night's meeting, was named to the draft committee, along with Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, all of which voted against Iraq on Aug. 10.

The meeting was boycotted by Iraq, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan and Mauritania. None of those members had voted with Egypt and the other conservative Arab states to form the all-Arab force.

Opening the meeting, Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel-Meguid deplored the divisions in the Arab world, but said the league should continue to press Iraq into withdrawing from Kuwait.

The foreign minister of the ousted Kuwaiti government, Sheik Sabah Ahmed Sabah, said, "This is the severest crisis the Arab world has undergone since the foundation of the Arab League" in 1945.

The meeting in Cairo was one of several diplomatic initiatives in the region that sought to focus on dialogue after four weeks of armed tension.

Most of the attention was focused on Perez de Cuellar's visit to Amman, to meet with Iraq's Aziz. The meeting had been scheduled for yesterday but was postponed until today at the request of Aziz, who wanted "more time to put together with President Saddam Hussein an Iraqi package for discussion," an Arab diplomat in Amman said.

Aziz is regarded as relatively moderate by many Western leaders, but he is said to wield little power within the small circle of military men and Baath Party officials with whom Saddam regularly consults.

Upon arriving in Amman, Perez de Cuellar told reporters, "I came here to listen to the Iraqi government. There could be a settlement, if there is a political determination to reach something. We can reach something."

The U.N. official said he had not come to negotiate, but to listen to Aziz and exchange ideas.

During a stopover in Paris on his way to Amman, Perez de Cuellar said he saw signs that Saddam might be seeking a way out of the stalemate, but that Saddam's vision of a compromise might not be compatible with U.N. resolutions demanding Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait.

British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd said that while he supported Perez de Cuellar's attempts at "finding out whether the Iraqis in private show any signs of moving," he did not believe the talks with Aziz could produce much at this stage, Reuter reported.

Several other diplomatic initiatives were underway, including one by the leaders of five North African states -- Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco and Mauritania -- who planned to gather Sunday in Algiers to try to hammer out a common position on an "Arab solution" that would substitute for intervention by U.S. and other Western forces.

Jordan's King Hussein yesterday completed a tour of the five North African states to promote his own version of an Arab peace plan, which reportedly would also replace the Western forces in the Arabian peninsula with an Arab peace-keeping force. Hussein met with Spanish officials in Madrid yesterday and goes next to London.

Acting independently of the various collective Arab peace initiatives, Tunisia, Yemen and Sudan have dispatched envoys to Arab and European capitals seeking a formula for a political solution to the crisis.

Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Boulares conferred separately with Foreign Ministers Saud Faisal of Saudi Arabia and Gianni de Michelis of Italy, who is the current president of the European Community and has been traveling in the region on a mediation mission.

Reuter reported the following developments:

American civil rights activist and journalist Jesse Jackson discussed the gulf crisis with Aziz in Baghdad yesterday as he prepared to interview Saddam for an NBC television program. Jackson said he also hopes to meet Americans and other Westerners being held hostage by Iraq.

In Brussels, the European Community's executive commission summoned Austria's top diplomat to criticize Austrian President Kurt Waldheim for visiting Saddam last week, saying the trip breached international solidarity against Baghdad. In return for the visit, Iraq released 96 Austrians it had detained.

Syria, meanwhile, denied reports of pro-Iraqi riots that allegedly killed dozens of people and accused Jordan of spreading malicious rumors. Information Minister Mohammed Salman said the reports of unrest in Syrian towns close to the Iraqi border "exist only in the minds of those who leaked them." Syria has supplied troops for the all-Arab deterrent force sent to aid Saudi Arabia.

Moore reported from Saudi Arabia and Claiborne from Cairo. Washington Post correspondent Nora Boustany in Amman also contributed to this article.