AMMAN, JORDAN, OCT. 22 -- Iraq made new moves today concerning the foreigners it is holding hostage, as a private American intermediary said he expected some U.S. detainees to be released, and President Saddam Hussein indicated he is willing to release all detained Frenchmen.

The prospect of early releases for the U.S. and French hostages came one day after British former prime minister Edward Heath announced that a number of British detainees are to be freed Tuesday on orders from Saddam. Small groups of German, Spanish and British citizens were released last week after anti-war activists made humanitarian appeals in meetings similar to Heath's with senior Iraqi officials.

Although such gestures have gained the freedom of a number of Europeans and Americans, Saddam declared that these piecemeal releases do not signal any shift away from his tactic of holding Western and Japanese men as insurance against a U.S. bombing attack. Up to 8,000 people, including hundreds of Americans, have been prevented from leaving Iraq and Kuwait.

In an interview with Japan's NHK public television network broadcast in Tokyo today, Saddam said a general hostage release will be considered only "on condition that the threat of war against Iraq ceases to exist." President Bush and other Western leaders have said the threat of war is a necessary tool to persuade Saddam to withdraw from Kuwait, which he invaded Aug. 2 and annexed six days later.

The number of American hostages to be released and the date of their liberation are still under discussion, according to Salim Mansour, an Arab-American heading a delegation in Baghdad from the Iraqi-American Foundation. The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad has presented Iraqi authorities with a list of 69 of the 104 American men known to be held at strategic sites as human shields who the embassy says should be released on humanitarian or medical grounds.

Mansour told reporters in Baghdad that his delegation and the U.S. Embassy are negotiating with the Iraqi Foreign Ministry about who would be allowed to leave, presumably from the list of sick and elderly. In addition to the 104 registered at strategic sites, more than 20 U.S. citizens have taken refuge in the U.S. ambassador's residence in Baghdad.

In a separate category are the several hundred American men trapped in Kuwait, many of whom remain in hiding. Most of their wives and children, as well as U.S. citizens of Arab origin, have been allowed to leave on evacuation flights organized by the U.S. and other governments.

Saddam's suggestion that all Frenchmen should be allowed to leave evoked suspicion that he is seeking to split France away from the U.S.-led alliance of Western and Arab powers in the Persian Gulf. Today's gesture marked the first time that the Iraqi president has publicly raised the possibility of releasing all the hostages of a specific nationality.

"This reaffirms Iraq's concern about its friendship with France and those who befriend it {Iraq} and is in appreciation of the free French people's rejection of Bush's aggressive means and the use of arms against Iraq," Saddam said in a message to the National Assemby carried by the official Iraqi News Agency.

The Iraqi leader did not directly announce that the Frenchmen would be freed. Instead, he called on the assembly to begin a "debate on allowing all French nationals banned from traveling outside Iraq either to leave or to stay," the agency reported.

The tactic was interpreted as an indication that he is willing in principle to make the release, but that the French government should initiate contacts as the next step. Iraq's National Assembly has no independent power and could be expected to decide whatever Saddam suggests.

The French Foreign Ministry, however, immediately declared that President Francois Mitterrand's government would not engage in negotiations over the hostages.

"One does not discuss that kind of thing," ministry spokesman Daniel Bernard told reporters in Luxembourg during a European Community meeting. He added, "We demand the liberation of all foreign nationals, who are being held against all the principles of international law."

Iraqi officials previously have commended Mitterrand's proposals last month at the United Nations, which left open a possibility of negotiations on the Arab-Israeli dispute and withdrawal of the Western military forces in Saudi Arabia if Baghdad would agree first to give up Kuwait.

More generally, France has had particularly close political and commercial relations with Iraq since the mid-1970s. These ties solidified further during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, when France was Iraq's largest supplier of military equipment after the Soviet Union.

In his message to the assembly, Saddam cited demonstrations and rallies in France against the threat of war and the multinational forces to which France has contributed almost 5,000 troops, a half-dozen warships and about 30 aircraft. This appeared to reflect hopes expressed by Iraqi officials in Baghdad last week that anti-war sentiment is gaining ground in the United States and Western Europe, perhaps enough to make an attack on Iraq politically difficult.

As preparations for the releases went forward, the British Embassy in Baghdad announced that a British citizen had died while being held at one of Iraq's strategic sites. Iraqi authorities notified the embassy three days ago that the hostage, identified as Ron Duffy, 62, succumbed to a heart attack, an embassy spokesman told reporters.

Seven more Britons have been arrested in Kuwait, meanwhile, and are to be transferred to Baghdad, the Foreign Office said in London. About 300 British citizens have been forced to remain at strategic sites in Iraq.