PARIS, NOV. 10 -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III completed an eight-day tour of the Persian Gulf and Europe today during which he was told by many members of the anti-Iraqi alliance that more time is required for international sanctions against Iraq to work before turning to military force to oust Iraq from Kuwait, according to diplomats and administration officials.
The results of Baker's trip, coupled with President Bush's announcement Thursday that he intends nearly to double U.S. forces in the gulf, indicate that the timetable for U.S. military action against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein has lengthened, even as the U.S. commitment to use force has grown.
Baker told reporters here this morning that he found among alliance members a "strong consensus on our collective aims" of forcing Saddam to relinquish Kuwait, which Iraq has occupied since invading Aug. 2.
Although senior officials have expressed some frustration with France, they said they were satisfied that the Soviet Union in particular is not wavering. Baker held lengthy meetings with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who emphasized the importance of solidarity against Saddam.
But, Baker acknowledged, "there are differing opinions with respect to how long it would take for sanctions to work" before turning to war. "Indeed, there are some different opinions with respect to the degree to which sanctions are already working, or having some effect and bite. So there are some differing views on those things."
The emir of Kuwait, for example, pleaded with Baker to liberate his country immediately. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher warned that Saddam would have to leave or be removed by force. The Soviet Union, which has denounced Saddam's aggression but sent no troops, has urged a peaceful resolution but said military force cannot be ruled out. Roland Dumas, the foreign minister of France, which has deployed a large force to the gulf, said today, "Nobody has yet started discussing military action."
During his trip, Baker also met with Saudi Arabian King Fahd, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Turkish President Turgut Ozal and the leaders of Bahrain, all of whom are preparing to move against Iraq but think the sanctions should be given more time to work.
The differing assessments offered no clear path for the Bush administration, and officials said the immediate task for the United States is to lay out new initiatives to press Saddam into withdrawing from Kuwait.
Although the United States and its partners in the anti-Iraq alliance have been trying to force Saddam into submission for more than three months with a blend of economic starvation and military threat, the efforts have not yet worked, in part because Saddam has not gotten the desired message.
"I think the key is to send a clear and unmistakable signal to Baghdad that we are serious," Baker said. "I think we have sent that signal" in recent days. But, he added, "we have not yet succeeded in reversing his aggression."
In the new phase of the confrontation, he said, "we've recognized that we must heighten the pressure further. Indeed, we have to lay the foundation for the use of force should that become necessary. One way to do that, clearly, is to get ready militarily."
Bush took a major step in this direction last week with his announcement that he would deploy up to 200,000 additional troops to prepare for possible offensive action.
In addition, Baker devoted much of his tour to resolving problems over military coordination. He sought to work out details of who would be in charge of troops in offensive operations and how to provide supplies and logistical support to the multinational force in the event of war.
While in Saudi Arabia, Baker reached explicit understandings about the command and control of troops, and in other capitals he said any decision to go to war would have to be made by political leaders at the highest level.
Thus, although Baker has said the United States already has all the legal authority necessary under the U.N. Charter to act alone if necessary, his trip appears to have reduced the chances that the United States would launch a unilateral strike against Saddam as long as there is no new provocation, such as a terrorist attack or harm to the American hostages being held in Iraq.
Within the next week, the administration is expected to come up with new diplomatic steps to increase the pressure on Saddam.
Baker had said at the start of his trip that he would sound out alliance members on the use of the U.N. Security Council as a vehicle for further steps to press Iraq.
Baker said today that the administration has not yet drafted a Security Council resolution authorizing the use of force, and diplomatic sources said the leaders whom Baker met with expressed some ambivalence about this course of action.
Baker did not ask for, nor did he get, public commitments from any of the other four permanent members of the Security Council -- Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China, all of whom would have a veto -- to support such a resolution. However, in private talks, none expressed serious objections to it; rather, according to diplomats and officials, there is a sense that such a resolution is not an urgent necessity.
At the same time, there was nearly unanimous opinion in Arab and European capitals that if the confrontation does come to war, the only way to hold the coalition together would be to enter hostilities under the umbrella of the United Nations.
There also is ambivalence among U.S. policy-makers about seeking a Security Council resolution on the use of force because it could provide council members some leverage over U.S. combat decisions.
Rather than push for the authorization to use force right away, the administration is expected, as early as next week, to first seek other measures from the Security Council, perhaps putting a more direct focus on Iraq's human rights violations in Kuwait. Officials are also studying how to assemble a possible resupply mission for the besieged U.S. and British embassies in Kuwait.
Diplomats and officials said Saddam appears to have been sending mixed signals.
His recent effort to divide the coalition with selective hostage releases is viewed as a sign that he understands he faces an unprecedented international alliance arrayed against him. Baker, who earlier this year devoted extensive efforts to pave the way for the unification of Germany, was especially irked by the trip of former West German chancellor Willy Brandt to Baghdad to retrieve German and other hostages.
"We discourage frankly the shameful practice that is occurring in Baghdad -- the use of civilians as hostages," Baker told reporters this morning. He also warned prominent citizens not to allow themselves to be "used for what we consider to be shameful purposes."
At the same time, there have been almost no signs that Saddam has reached the point where he wants to negotiate his way out of the crisis. He has apparently not yet tried to start a negotiating "bazaar" in which he seeks to lure other Arab nations into a settlement -- a move that alliance officials said could be a serious threat to the coalition. And Saddam has remained largely inflexible about the basic demands of the alliance that he pull out of Kuwait completely and unconditionally.
The Bush administration has been willing to let the Soviets take the lead in extending diplomatic overtures to Saddam, but two visits to Baghdad by Gorbachev envoy Yevgeny Primakov so far have not produced significant results. There have been no direct overtures to Iraq from Bush, although Washington warned Saddam earlier in the crisis not to engage in terrorism.