MOSCOW, NOV. 8 -- Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze warned today that although the Soviet Union wants a political settlement of the Persian Gulf crisis, military force may be required to expel Iraq from Kuwait if a peaceful solution cannot be found.
Speaking to reporters after a long day of meetings with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, Shevardnadze said, "As for the question of whether or not the use of force could be ruled out, well, probably this could not be ruled out, and a situation may emerge which effectively would require such a move."
Shevardnadze's comment, which came in response to a question, appeared to be his most explicit to date suggesting that the Soviet Union might agree to the use of force, but he also went out of his way to say repeatedly that Moscow views this as an "undesirable" course.
Shevardnadze said the Soviet Union would insist that decisions about using force be made under the auspices of the United Nations Security Council. In meetings today with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Shevardnadze, Baker urged the Soviet leadership to support a new Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force if economic sanctions and other pressure tactics fail. Tonight, Baker and Shevardnadze began a new round of talks aimed at further refining the details of such a resolution.
The Soviets have recently sent contradictory signals about their intentions as part of the global alliance against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Only 10 days ago in Paris, Gorbachev said the military option against Saddam was "unacceptable" and called for an Arab peace initiative. Soviet officials subsequently said the Soviet leader's comments had been misinterpreted.
Nonetheless, Gorbachev's remarks caused some consternation in the Bush administration, which has been trying to turn up the pressure on Saddam by threatening to use force to oust him from Kuwait. At the same time, the Soviets have said they remained committed to full implementation of the previous 10 Security Council resolutions calling for Iraq to withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait.
Gorbachev was quoted by the Tass news agency tonight as reassuring Baker that the Soviet Union is not breaking ranks with the alliance. "No one should count on cracks appearing in this coordinated stance," Gorbachev said, according to Tass.
But Shevardnadze also made clear that the Soviet leadership is uneasy with the war threats from the United States and Britain in recent days. Tonight, at a press conference with Baker at his side, Shevardnadze said, "We see as the main method of solution a political decision, a political settlement. We cannot have any differences on that subject."
But Shevardnadze also said the Soviet leadership values cooperation with the United States in the alliance against Saddam and made clear that Moscow would not stand in the way of new Security Council resolutions to increase the pressure on the Iraqi leader. He said the existing resolutions should "serve as a warning, a very stern warning" to Saddam, "and perhaps we could come up with some further decisions or resolutions."
Shevardnadze did not explicitly endorse a resolution authorizing force but suggested to reporters in response to questions that both he and Baker were working on the details tonight.
The Soviets played a critical role in shaping the language of an earlier Security Council resolution, adopted in late August, that authorized naval interception of shipping to and from Iraq. But the Soviets have committed no troops to the multinational force in the Persian Gulf, and they repeatedly have expressed grave misgivings about the prospects for armed conflict in the region.
Shevardnadze, questioned on whether he supports recent threats by Baker and President Bush to turn to military action if sanctions fail to force Saddam out of Kuwait, replied that "we prefer political methods of solution, just as the United States does, and we have no differences on that score."
Even threats to use force -- which have been issued with increasing frequency by the United States as a pressure tactic -- are a sensitive matter for Soviet officials, who are still trying to preserve relations with Iraq, a former ally and arms purchaser.
The Soviet foreign minister hinted at the use of force earlier in the crisis. Speaking to the U.N. General Assembly in September, Shevardnadze said the global body has the power to "suppress acts of aggression" and would do so "if the illegal occupation of Kuwait continues."
Baker said he did not take Shevardnadze's comments today as a rejection of the idea of a Security Council resolution authorizing force. He said he would not press Shevardnadze to approve the language of a U.N. resolution before he leaves Moscow on Friday, but said, "I'm quite prepared to leave here with a full understanding of the position of the Soviet Union, a clear picture of how the Soviet Union thinks we should proceed in the future."
Baker, officials said, hopes to meld the views of the five permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, France, the Soviet Union, China and the United States -- into a proposed resolution and would only move ahead if an agreement could be reached among them on a version that could be approved. Baker has said the United States has legal authority under the U.N. Charter to act alone, but other nations in the anti-Iraq coalition have emphasized that the cohesion of the alliance would not hold up.
There are many unanswered questions about such a resolution, such as whether the Security Council would have to vote again to authorize specific military actions, whether the initial authorization could be reversed, under what circumstances armed intervention would be permitted and how far it could be taken -- just to liberate Kuwait or to smash the Iraqi regime.
Shevardnadze insisted that these decisions not be made by the United States alone.
"Any decisions should be made in the framework of the Security Council," he said. "The Security Council has demonstrated enough maturity. We should not doubt the ability of the Security Council to make wise and mature decisions." The Soviets have advocated the reactivation of the United Nations' long-moribund Military Staff Committee for coordinating the gulf crisis; the United States, while agreeing to send representatives to the group, has been skeptical of it.
Asked whether the Soviet Union would be willing to set a deadline for withdrawal by Saddam, Shevardnadze said, "Perhaps we could come up with some further decisions or resolutions on that." Baker noted that the existing resolutions call for Iraq's immediate withdrawal.
Baker said the meetings with Gorbachev and Shevardnadze had produced agreement that "other options" should be considered if the crisis cannot be peacefully resolved, that both nations "are determined" to keep working together and both reject "partial solutions" that fall short of the U.N. resolutions seeking unconditional withdrawal.