MOSCOW, SEPT. 5 -- Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev met today with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz in a burst of diplomatic activity on the Persian Gulf crisis four days before his informal meeting with President Bush in Helsinki.

Emphasizing the Kremlin's desire to keep lines of communication open to all sides in the conflict, Gorbachev received a U.S. congressional delegation in his office just three hours before his meeting with the Iraqi envoy. Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) later quoted the Soviet president as promising to transmit anything that he learned from Aziz to President Bush during their meeting Sunday.

The Soviet news agency Tass said Gorbachev had received Aziz at the request of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, making clear that the Kremlin was not launching a diplomatic initiative of its own at this stage. A one-line report described the meeting as "frank," often diplomatic parlance for stormy and contentious.

Tass earlier signaled the Soviet Union's continuing anger with Iraq, formerly one of Moscow's closest allies in the Middle East, over its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait. It quoted Soviet officials as saying that diplomatic contacts with Baghdad had failed so far to produce "the desired result -- the immediate withdrawal of all Iraqi troops from Kuwait and the restoration of that country's independence and sovereignty."

The Iraqi ambassador to Moscow, Ghafil Jassim Hussein, said in a Soviet newspaper interview today that he hoped the Soviet Union would "play the role of peacemaker" in the gulf and "remain a true friend of the Arabs." He said that Iraq was keeping in "constant communication" with the Soviet side.

Both Soviet commentators and Arab diplomats here have suggested that the Soviet Union's traditional ties with radical Arab states could enable it to play a mediating role in the gulf crisis. But there appears to be little official enthusiasm here for assuming the responsibility of mediator as long as Iraq adopts an intransigent position on international demands for a complete withdrawal from Kuwait.

At a press conference at Moscow airport, Dole said he hoped Aziz had come to Moscow "to pass on to Gorbachev some message that might be passed on to President Bush. . . .

"Maybe it'll be a breakthrough, there'll be some little ray of hope. Maybe Saddam Hussein now realizes he has made a big mistake. He did not anticipate the world reaction," Dole said.

Soviet and Western analysts here predict that the Helsinki summit meeting will end with a firm Soviet-American condemnation of the Iraqi leader for his aggression against Kuwait. But Gorbachev is also expected to try to persuade Bush to rely on peaceful methods, including a possible tightening of the economic embargo ordered by the United Nations, to resolve the crisis.

Although both superpowers are committed to ensuring a full Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, Moscow seems much more prepared to strike some kind of a deal with Baghdad that will allow Saddam to save face.

"The different approach of the two superpowers reflects the fact that we have different interests in the region," said Andrei Kortunov, an analyst at Moscow's institute for U.S. studies.

"For Washington, the best option is the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. For us, it's not so simple. We have longstanding ties with Saddam. He owes us a lot of money. There's no guarantee that the next Iraqi leader will pay these debts."

Soviet experts predict that it will take six to eight months before Iraq really feels the impact of the United Nations trade embargo. Some argue that U.S. reluctance to sacrifice large numbers of lives in mounting a direct attack against Iraq and the difficulty of maintaining a prolonged campaign of sanctions will push the international community toward negotiations with Baghdad.

"We understand that Saddam Hussein is a reality," said Vitaly Naumkin, deputy director of the Institute for Oriental Affairs and a frequent visitor to the Middle East.

"We may not like him very much, but we see no easy way of getting rid of him. There is a high probability that he will survive this crisis. Any direct attack on Iraq would put most of the Arab world on the side of Saddam."

{Iraqi Foreign Minister Aziz is to visit Tehran Sunday for talks with Iranian officials, according to a report by the Iraqi News Agency cited by Reuter. Iraq last month made concessions to Iran, including a return of occupied Iranian territory, in an effort to normalize relations. The move sparked speculation that Iraq would seek Iranian cooperation in opposing the U.S. presence in the gulf region, but Tehran has condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait and shown no sign of close cooperation with Baghdad.}