AMMAN, JORDAN, AUG. 31 -- Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz conferred with U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar today and said Baghdad would release the thousands of foreign hostages it is holding if the United Nations provides guarantees that Iraq will not be attacked by Western military forces.

Perez de Cuellar did not comment on Aziz's offer, which marked the first formal Iraqi request to the United Nations for a commitment to safeguard it against attack. There was also no immediate comment from the United States, but the Bush administration on Wednesday had reiterated its policy of refusing to accept any conditions for the release of the hostages when Iraq's ambassador to Washington made a similar offer.

The commander of U.S. forces in the Middle East, Army Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf, told reporters in Saudi Arabia earlier today before Aziz's offer was publicized that there would not be "any war unless the Iraqis attack."

He echoed President Bush's assertions that the U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf region -- there are now 60,000 American troops there -- was aimed at defending Saudi Arabia and enforcing an international economic blockade against Iraq to punish it for invading Kuwait on Aug. 2. He also said he could not allow his military plans to be affected by concerns for the hostages -- including 3,000 Americans -- being held in Iraq and Kuwait.

Iraq appeared to set up more obstacles to the release of some of those hostages today, insisting that only the country's state-owned airline could fly out more than 200 women and children promised freedom several days ago. The Iraqi government "requested" that the governments of Britain and France grant Iraqi Airlines landing rights, and asked them to permit the jetliners to pick up Iraqi passengers who were "stranded" in London and Paris when the U.N. economic embargo was imposed and Iraq's overseas assets frozen.

At the same time, an Iraqi official announced that the government was sending more male hostages to strategic installations around the country to serve as shields against attack. "Every place, every town that has a vital installation will host our guests," said Iraqi government spokesman Naji Hadithi, the Associated Press reported.

In Washington, the White House said President Bush spoke today to Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and French President Francois Mitterrand in a series of phone calls on the crisis. Bush is urging wealthy allies to help share the enormous cost of the operation to defend Saudi Arabia and to assist countries being harmed by the economic blockade of Iraq, including Egypt and Turkey.

Aziz and Perez de Cuellar held five hours of talks at the Jordanian royal palace and afterward described them as "important and constructive." It appeared, however, that little substantive progress had been made, and despite some expectations that Perez de Cuellar might carry his mediation effort to Baghdad for face-to-face talks with Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, no such journey was announced. Aziz and Perez de Cuellar said they would meet again on Saturday.

At a press conference after the talks, Aziz praised Saddam's "important gesture" earlier this week of agreeing to free all women and children. "The restrictions now are limited to {men from} certain countries. Those countries are the participants in the military deployment against Iraq," he said.

He detailed the offer to free all the hostages, saying, "I asked the secretary general to seek guarantees that those countries that have deployed and threatened to attack Iraq . . . guarantee not to initiate war against our country.

"If such guarantees are provided, the situation of the civilians will be changed. We are always open to listen to ideas and suggestions," Aziz said.

In response to reporters' questions, Aziz did not try to defend his country's seizure of Kuwait and said there were no dramatic solutions in sight to the crisis. Iraq has vowed never to reverse its annexation of its tiny oil-rich neighbor.

"You cannot resolve such a situation by a magical solution. We need patience, we need some degree of quiet diplomacy," he added. When pushed again to explain whether Iraq had modified its position on Kuwait, Aziz simply answered: "No comment on your question."

Perez de Cuellar told reporters that he considered Iraq's gesture to allow women and children to leave "an important step forward," but said it "is not enough."

"I welcome this decision by the Iraqi government that I hope will be followed by other decisions which will allow all foreigners to leave the area," he said.

Perez de Cuellar said he was hoping to compare notes with Jordan's King Hussein, who has expressed sympathy with Saddam and has been on a tour of Arab and European capitals in an effort to work out a diplomatic end to the crisis. "Perhaps together we can assist each other in finding a lasting and permanent solution," he said.

Hussein met with Thatcher in London today, and the talks ended in apparent stalemate.

Meanwhile, in Cairo, officials from 13 of the Arab League's 21 member states met today -- the second day of an emergency session -- and agreed to issue a new condemnation of Iraqi's invasion of Kuwait.

Arab foreign ministers worked for two hours today to hammer out a unified position on how to press Iraq to withraw from Kuwait and adjourned with a promise to issue a statement Saturday.

Among the nations represented at the meeting were the 12 that on Aug. 10 voted at an Arab summit in the Egyptian capital to send an all-Arab deterrent force to Saudi Arabia to help the kingdom protect itself from an Iraqi attack.

The league's major decisions normally are made on the basis of unanimity, and some Arab diplomats have said they doubt whether the 45-year-old organization can survive the gulf crisis in its present form.

The only pro-Iraqi state represented at tonight's meeting was Libya, which sent its ambassador to Egypt, Gadhafi Dam, who is a cousin of Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi. The Libyan leader has promised to honor U.N. sanctions against Baghdad -- although he has been accused of violating them -- and denounced the holding of hostages.

Boycotting the meeting were Iraq, the Palestine Liberation Organization, Algeria, Tunisia, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan and Mauritania.

Conference sources said ministers would issue a call for an Iraqi withdrawal, accompanied by a demand that Iraq pay reparations to Kuwait for losses inflicted when Iraqi forces overran the emirate.

The ministers also agreed to call for the immediate release of all foreign hostages held by Iraq, for all civilians to be well-treated and compensated for losses; and for the return of the rule of Kuwait's ousted emir, Sheik Jabir Ahmed Sabah, the Associated Press reported, quoting conference sources.

The international naval armada in the region, meanwhile, continued to grow today as six more warships from the United States, Britain and the Netherlands entered the Suez Canal en route to the gulf. The United States now has about 60 ships deployed in the region.