UNITED NATIONS, OCT. 1 -- President Bush offered new optimism today that the Persian Gulf crisis can be settled without war, and said that Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait could lead to "opportunities" to resolve disputes between those two nations, as well as to settle the larger conflict "that divides Arabs from Israel."
Speaking to the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly, Bush appeared to hold out an olive branch that echoed, in tone if not in detail, remarks made here last week by French President Francois Mitterrand, who said "all things are possible" in connection with Iraqi withdrawal.
But in a later news conference, Bush rejected any suggestion of a change in the administration policy, which insists on unconditional Iraqi withdrawal, and rejects any linkage between the gulf and Israeli-Arab conflicts.
To suggest such a shift, he told reporters, was "reading too much into this. There is not any nuance to this that you think you might be missing." He added that "there is no flexibility here . . . You've got to make Kuwait the way it was. And absolutely not that there can be any giving away by the United States or the United Nations of anything."
Bush said that even if Iraq withdrew, its chemical and other weapons capabilities "would be a problem and it would have to be resolved."
There would be "great unease about the simple status quo ante" in Iraq, he said. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's virtual dismantling of Kuwait during the current military occupation would produce claims for reparations, he said. At the same time, Iraq's neighbors would want "to know that there was not a risk of another reckless invasion."
In his speech, Bush lauded the unity of the international community in opposition to the invasion, and cited the cooperation of the Soviet Union as evidence that "four decades of history" now has been put aside.
Bush also met today with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, and aides said the two worked to speed progress on negotiations for treaties dealing with reductions in conventional forces in Europe, and with strategic nuclear forces.
Bush expressed optimism that the conventional-forces talks underway in Vienna would produce an agreement to sign next month. But he suggested that a Moscow summit to sign a strategic arms reduction agreement would not occur until early next year.
Shevardnadze later told reporters that progress was being made in the Geneva strategic arms talks, and said that remaining issues could be resolved when he comes to Washington next month.
Diplomatic sources at a separate meeting here of the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) said that foreign ministers of the 12-nation European Community were expected to meet and agree tonight to provide 1.5 billion European Currency Units (ECU) to be divided among Turkey, Jordan and Egypt to help cover losses those countries have suffered from observance of the U.N.-imposed economic sanctions against Iraq. An ECU is worth slightly more than a U.S. dollar.
In his U.N. address, Bush offered no softening of his past blunt condemnations of Iraq. But despite suggestions by the White House last week that new U.N. sanctions -- including military force -- may be needed in the gulf, Bush said he is "not pressing" for such U.N. resolutions "at this point."
Bush agreed with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that resolutions already enacted by the U.N. Security Council authorize the use of force to enforce the sanctions against Iraq, but he suggested that the United States would seek further U.N. authorization if it thought such force necessary.
Despite a steady drumbeat of anti-Iraq statements over the past week, Bush said today he was optimistic that Saddam might withdraw from Kuwait because "the sanctions are really beginning to bite hard," and because some leaders have told him Saddam might "do a 180. You look at the history with Iran, and he's done a 180-degree turn and done exactly what he said he wouldn't do."
Bush's address emphasized Soviet cooperation in the eight Security Council resolutions that have condemned Iraq and authorized the sanctions. That cooperation, he said, had been "critical" not only to the action against Iraq but to the emergence of a stronger, more effective United Nations. "The U.S.-Soviet relationship is finally beyond containment and confrontation," he said, "and now we seek to fulfill the promise of mutually shared understanding."
In their session, Bush and Shevardnadze discussed the situation in the gulf, officials said, including whether Soviet troops would be employed in any capacity. Shevardnadze emphasized afterward that "we and the administration believe that there is still a chance for a peaceful settlement," but said a discussion of the makeup and command of a military force under U.N. auspices was discussed.
Bush and Secretary of State James A. Baker III, in a series of meetings with foreign leaders here for the annual general assembly session, have spoken generally of whether a new U.N. resolution authorizing military action to enforce the sanctions might be needed, and how the force to undertake such action might be structured.
But Bush said today "We'll cross that bridge when we get to it" and senior officials said no definite action had been taken toward drafting a new U.N. resolution.
As with Shevardnadze, the gulf crisis was at least an undercurrent in all of the president's one-on-one meetings with foreign leaders here today. Rescheduling sessions canceled Sunday because of his trip to Washington, the president met with leaders of Yugoslavia, Italy, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Argentina, Uruguay and the Organization of African Unity.
Many of the leaders expressed support for the sanctions and efforts to dislodge Saddam from Kuwait, but anxiety about the duration of the conflict.
In a meeting that administration aides said reflected many others, Uruguayan President Luis A. Lacalle said he had urged Bush to try to achieve a settlement in the gulf quickly. Bernard Aronson, assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, said the Uruguayan leader told Bush his nation had suffered a double blow from the conflict. The rise in oil prices was devastating its economy, he said, and the restrictions on sales of Uruguayan mutton to Iraq had also hurt.