A large, bipartisan cross section of Congress does not want President Bush to use military force against Iraq without first seeking a declaration of war or other congressional approval, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee made clear yesterday.

Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who testified before the committee for 2 1/2 hours, heard a parade of senators from both parties underscore their belief that the administration should keep working under United Nations auspices for a diplomatic rather than a military solution, refrain from force except as a last resort in the event of new Iraqi aggression or danger to Americans, and agree to a mechanism for systematic consultation after next week when Congress adjourns until late January.

Despite Baker's repeated assurances that "President Bush is committed to extensive consultations with Congress," committee members said they feel more is needed to ensure that Congress is not left behind if the gulf situation takes unexpected turns that might cause Bush and his senior advisers to consider further military options.

"There is a difference between consultation and authorization," Sen Paul S. Sarbanes (D-Md.) said in summing up the committee's mood. "It is my very strongly held view that the commitment of American forces by the president in a major assault to drive {Iraqi President} Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait would require an authorization from the Congress.

"You need to come to the Congress, lay out what it is you are proposing to do and for what purposes and get a judgment by the Congress that the administration ought to be given the authority to do that," Sarbanes said. "If you get a declaration of war, you lose the element of surprise. . . . But the notion that the president alone would be able to commit American forces in a major assault without receiving a shared decision by the Congress, it seems to me, is contrary to what the Constitution calls for."

Other committee members cautioned that the administration should not regard separate resolutions passed by the Senate on Oct. 2 and the House on Sept. 27 supporting Bush's deployment of U.S. military forces in the gulf region as permission for him to commit troops to battle without waiting for Congress to exercise its responsibility to declare war.

When the resolutions were passed, members of both the House and Senate said they should not be interpreted as resembling the 1964 Tonkin Gulf resolution, which opened the door to the U.S. military escalation that became the Vietnam War.

Yesterday's largely amicable exchange between Baker and the senators included considerable praise from committee members for the administration's handling of the gulf crisis up to now. But it also contained aspects of the long-standing dispute between the White House and Capitol Hill about how much restraint Congress can exercise over the president's powers as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Baker reiterated the administration's commitment to consultation, and he parried each suggestion of a formal consultative mechanism by saying he would look more closely at whether it would unduly inhibit the president's freedom to act swiftly in emergencies.

"I cannot give you a blank check commitment that we will, in every case, do nothing until we have consulted with all 535 members of Congress," he said.

"I want the record to show that I, for one, am not giving advance approval of a U.S. unilateral military action," Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) said in concluding the hearing. "If military action is required, the president should act in a multilateral context and under a U.N. mandate. In addition, a formal mechanism should be developed for consultation with the Congress if and when military options are considered."

Pell's call echoed similar proposals in the Senate and House for Congress to establish a bipartisan leadership group to consult with Bush while Congress is out of session. At yesterday's hearing, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) said that if further military action seems necessary "the Congress ought to come back into session and ought to entertain a declaration of war."

On the other side of Capitol Hill, House Speaker Thomas S. Foley (D-Wash.) yesterday also supported the idea of calling Congress back into special session if the gulf crisis worsens during the next three months.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) suggested that the problem might be solved by a resolution authorizing the president to use U.S. forces to deter and, if necessary, to defend against Iraqi aggression, to respond with proportionate force to dangers against U.S. citizens or to join in collective security actions ordered by the United Nations to counter Iraqi threats.

Of the committee's 10 Democrats and nine Republicans, only two -- Rudy Boschwitz (R-Minn.) and Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.) -- cautioned that too much insistence on a greater congressional role could make it difficult for Bush to counter Iraqi aggression effectively.

Sen. Nancy L. Kassebaum (R-Kan.) said it is important for Bush to ensure that the United States continues to act with U.N. cooperation so that "this conflict remains one of Iraq against the international community." Sen. Frank H. Murkowski (R-Alaska) stressed that the administration should not overlook any possibilities for a peaceful solution because "the alternative that we have discussed here today -- body bags and the other realities of a war -- is not very pretty."

The one harsh note at yesterday's hearing was sounded by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), the committee's ranking minority member. He sharply criticized the administration for improving its ties with Syrian President Hafez Assad, despite what Helms called Syria's attacks against the Christian community in neighboring Lebanon, and for supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Israel for the killing of 19 Palestinians during an Oct. 8 rock-throwing riot in Jerusalem.

"What kind of policy do we have when it turns anti-Christian and anti-Jewish in a single week?" Helms asked.