PARIS, NOV. 19 (MONDAY) -- Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze wrestled last night and early today with the question of whether the two superpowers will seek a United Nations stamp of approval on military action against Iraq but deferred a final decision to President Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
"My advice is stay tuned, and you'll get an answer tomorrow," Baker told reporters after he and Shevardnadze concluded two hours of talks here. He apparently was alluding to a meeting between Bush and Gorbachev scheduled for tonight.
The Soviet Union has emerged as the pivotal player in determining whether the United States will be able to push a resolution endorsing use of military force against Iraq through the U.N. Security Council before the end of the month.
Baker has been in Europe since Thursday, conferring with foreign ministers of the other 14 Security Council members about whether such a resolution might prove effective in forcing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to end his occupation of neighboring Kuwait. It has become apparent that the United States probably can get the nine-vote majority necessary for such a resolution and avoid a veto by any of the other four permanent council members -- the Soviet Union, China, Britain and France.
Britain and France are understood to be ready to support such a resolution, and the Soviet Union and China have indicated that they would at least withhold their vetoes.
However, Bush's officials say they believe that as a strong demonstration of unanimity, it is important to have the active support of Moscow on the resolution. Forceful Soviet backing also probably would move some of the wavering Third World council members to support the resolution and give it a solid majority of at least 12 or 13 votes.
The meeting here, on the eve of a another involving leaders of Europe, the United States and Canada did not begin until near midnight Sunday because Shevardnadze's flight was late in arriving.
Following the talks, Shevardnadze said: "I cannot say we have reached any final decisions. We are engaged in very necessary and important discussions at our level. Tomorrow they will continue at the presidential level." Later, he added, "We also have other partners and have to consult with them. So it is not so simple. So please bear with us."
He dodged questions about whether Soviet leaders feel that further diplomatic efforts to end the occupation of Kuwait peacefully should be pursued and whether it is too early to authorize military action against Iraq. Asked if the Soviet Union might consider a veto, Shevardnadze replied, "There is no such resolution yet."
At earlier meetings with Baker, British Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd made clear that his government will support a military-force resolution. While Hurd said it was still too early to discuss the specifics of a resolution, he added: "We think it's very important that the military option should be there and should be credible. That's why we entirely understand the further U.S. buildup and are anxious about how we might contribute. . . . A military option is needed."
French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas was more cautious in his remarks, saying France "continues to advocate the reinforcement of the embargo." Diplomatic sources have said, however, that French President Francois Mitterrand has assured the United States that France will vote to authorize military force as a means of putting further pressure on Iraq.
Baker also conferred Sunday with the foreign ministers of two other Security Council members, Romania's Adrian Nastase and Finland's Perti Paasio. Nastase answered questions about whether Washington can count on Romania's vote by saying, "We are ready to consider this solution."
Paasio hinted broadly that Finland will go along if the five permanent council members agree that the time had come to put the United Nations on record as backing military force.