White House officials hope Sunday's summit will send a powerful message of East-West harmony to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, but as President Bush left Washington for Helsinki last night, the administration was actively discouraging expectations that the third meeting between Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev might produce any breakthrough.

"It will be a consultation only, very informal," a senior administration official said yesterday.

The summit came at Bush's initiative, out of a desire, officials said, to show superpower unity on the Persian Gulf crisis, to give a public expression of gratitude to Gorbachev for his cooperation, to discuss where the crisis may go from here, to understand more clearly what differences the two nations may have and to let Gorbachev know that the crisis has not distracted the United States and other major nations from helping the Soviets restructure their economy.

But Bush's description of the meeting as one in which there is "no special agenda" belies the platter of concerns each leader will bring to Helsinki.

Chief among them from the U.S. side may be the continuing presence of Soviet military advisers in Iraq, a hangover from the days when Moscow was Baghdad's principal arms supplier.

"I can assure you Bush will bring it up with Gorbachev and {Secretary of State James A.} Baker {III} will discuss it with {Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard} Shevardnadze," a senior official said yesterday. "We are not making a big public deal about it, but obviously it is a problem and a concern not so much about the literal help they are giving Iraq but because of the impression of it."

Although Bush has made it clear he does not expect the Soviets to contribute financially to the international effort in the Middle East, administration officials also would like to see greater military participation by the Soviets, if only for symbolic reasons.

Officials said the president also wants to talk face-to-face with the Soviet president as the gulf crisis enters a new phase. The meetings in Finland will give Bush an opportunity to explore future options with Gorbachev and to gauge the Soviet leader's support for possible alternatives, officials said.

Although Gorbachev has supported Bush's actions to date, there is clearly nervousness within the Soviet government that the United States may initiate military hostilities to topple Saddam and that the crisis could leave a lasting U.S. military presence in the region.

The administration won't say how much Bush is willing to give in return for greater cooperation from the Soviets. Although there has been speculation that Bush is prepared to offer Gorbachev economic assistance in return for continuing cooperation on the gulf, officials discounted the notion of any linkage between the two. They note that a number of obstacles still stand in the way, including Soviet failure to reform their emigration laws.

In an unusual announcement last night, the State Department said it would "view with utmost seriousness" any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism. The statement said that in recent months Iraq had expanded support for several terrorist groups, particularly radical Palestinian elements.

The department said groups supported by Iraq could attack Americans or American interests at "almost any time" in Europe, the Middle East, and, to a lesser extent, other areas.