Mikhail Gorbachev, seated across a glass-topped table from Secretary of State James A. Baker III, crossed his fingers tightly and held them up and said, "We've got to stay together like this."

It was not until weeks later that Gorbachev finally agreed to sign on to the historic resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council Thursday authorizing the use of force against Iraq. But his Nov. 8 comment to Baker, made as the two met in the Soviet leader's country house beside the Moscow River, was a key moment in one of the most intense rounds of diplomacy yet in the Persian Gulf crisis.

According to American, European and Soviet officials, that successful diplomacy -- six weeks of globe-spanning consultations among the members of the Security Council and the anti-Iraq coalition -- was carried out through a web of pressures and inducements, a blizzard of cables and telephone calls, and thousands of miles of overseas travel by President Bush, Baker and other world leaders.

At one point, Bush, then in Paris, telephoned the prime minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamad, who was dining in a Tokyo restaurant, to recruit his Security Council vote. Malaysia voted yes. As a consensus grew, so did the welter of pressure and counter-pressure. Baker ventured to Yemen, which had supported Iraq, and held out the promise of American aid if Yemen would support the resolution. But Yemen did not. One exhausted U.S. official recalled, "Everybody was working on everybody."

The effort ran parallel and was closely related to the decision by Bush to double the size of American troops in Operation Desert Shield. The goal of the diplomacy, outlined in a three-page strategy memo by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Robert Kimmitt covering Oct. 15-Nov. 30, was to provide the political underpinnings in case Bush had to send the troops into battle. Another goal of the effort was to refocus the world's attention on Iraq at a time when Bush was under attack at home and the coalition seemed to be fraying abroad.

In the end, the quest for the resolution produced what senior American officials described as the most intricate cooperation yet between the United States and the Soviet Union. One of these officials, in a position to watch Soviet-American relations closely, said Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze "have in large measure coordinated their actions -- the scenarios, the sequences -- as if {Shevardnadze} were the foreign minister of Canada or the U.K."

But cooperation was not easily forged. As the American diplomats discovered once again, Gorbachev is enmeshed in a complex tangle of domestic and overseas problems that limit his flexibility, and it took weeks of cajoling to bring him and Shevardnadze to agree to the possible use of force against an Arab nation and one-time client less than 1,000 miles away.

When he met Baker at his mustard-colored stucco country house outside Moscow, to which few Westerners have ever been invited, Gorbachev did not endorse the use of force. Rather, he started thinking out loud about other possibilities, suggesting to Baker that perhaps there should be two resolutions, one setting a deadline now, another authorizing force later, according to officials familiar with the give-and-take.

This struck Baker as a serious mistake that would not pressure Saddam Hussein nearly as much as a single, strong resolution. Baker told Gorbachev two resolutions would be a step backward. Baker feared "you'd never get a second resolution, and Saddam Hussein could toy around with it" for a long time, one informed official said.

When Baker left Moscow the next day, after 13 hours of talks with Shevardnadze and Gorbachev -- about half devoted to the gulf crisis -- top U.S. officials sensed Gorbachev would ultimately go along with the use of force. But they did not yet have Gorbachev's commitment to anything. As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, the Soviets could block Baker's plan if they chose, and Baker confided to associates that he would drop the whole thing if it looked like Moscow was not cooperating.

According to participants, both Baker and Bush quietly mounted a new effort in mid- November to persuade the Soviets to abandon the idea of two resolutions.

Bush wrote an unpublicized letter to Gorbachev in the days before they met at the European summit in Paris Nov. 19, urging him to give up on the idea of two resolutions, officials said. Gorbachev did so in Paris, but then other hurdles had to be cleared.

Gorbachev's suggestion for two resolutions reflected conflicting pressures on Soviet foreign policy, American and Soviet sources said. One school is led by Yevgeny Primakov, Gorbachev's special envoy to Saddam and a leading Arabist who met Saddam Oct. 5 and Oct 28. His view has been that Saddam is suicidal, has a "Masada complex," and must be shown an avenue out of his "fortress under siege." Primakov's thinking has influenced Gorbachev to want to keep trying to find a path out through peaceful and not military means.

But Primakov's approach was waning when Baker got to Moscow. The competing school of thought, advanced by the United States and its allies, is that Saddam is a survivalist, and could find his own path to retreat if faced with a hard-line opponent. Although this hard line did not come naturally to the Soviet leadership, it was gradually reinforced by what Gorbachev felt was Saddam's intransigence toward his old friends in Moscow. In particular, Saddam reneged on a promise to Primakov to let Soviet citizens leave Baghdad. Gorbachev has been sensitive to anguished letters asking for help from his trapped citizens in Iraq, a Soviet source said.

At the same time, the Soviets did not want the improving relationship with the United States and the West to fail. Although they did not ask for economic aid, implicit in the talks was the promise that the United States and other nations would not ignore Moscow's economic needs. "The trick was to convince them the U.S.-Soviet cooperation could not be seen to fail," a State Department official said.

Shevardnadze had broached the idea of using force in his September address at the United Nations, but was initially reluctant in his talks with Baker during the early November visit. In an informal atmosphere one offical described as "brainstorming," he raised other sanctions and pressures that might be used against Saddam. Baker said they were not enough. "It was not until three or four hours into it that we began to make a real impact on his thinking," said a senior American official familiar with the talks.

Baker shared with Shevardnadze secret details of military deployments in the Persian Gulf. Shevardnadze seemed to like the idea of setting a date for Saddam to pull out of Kuwait, emphasizing the importance of a "grace period" before the use of force. He insisted, however, the actual word "force" not be used, just as it was not in an earlier resolution last summer authorizing the naval interceptions, which instead authorized the use of "all necessary means."

Shevardnadze brought Baker to see Gorbachev at the country house. There, Baker based his appeal on the Soviet president's own speech to the United Nations in December 1988, in which he outlined a world vision based on "reinvigoration of the role of the United Nations."

According to another senior U.S. official, Baker told Gorbachev Saddam was testing the credibility of the United Nations by flaunting its previous resolutions, and thus testing Gorbachev's own vision of how the world should work. "We cannot have the U.N. go the way of the League of Nations," Baker said, according to this official. He appealed to Gorbachev's own "canon" that the world community should be governed by the "rule of law." That evening, Shevardnadze surprised Baker by telling reporters, somewhat reluctantly, that force may be required in the gulf.

At the Paris summit, Gorbachev proposed to Bush a single "two-tier" resolution very close to what Washington wanted. Baker, in words that he later regretted, told reporters to "stay tuned, and you'll get an answer tomorrow" about Gorbachev's endorsement, raising expectations that it was imminent.

In fact, the Soviet president wanted more time before making his announcement so that he could send Shevardnadze to China and invite Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz to Moscow for one last talk. "They wanted to be players, not just following along," said the senior American official. Although there was widespread speculation that Gorbachev was resisting, in fact the Paris meeting was where he gave up on the idea of two resolutions. The meeting with Aziz in Moscow went badly, and Gorbachev, apparently irritated by Iraq's refusal to release his citizens, unleashed some of his harshest criticism of Iraq just before the U.N. vote.

According to an American source, Shevardnadze told Aziz in Moscow, "This is the last resolution" the global body would pass.

When the administration first set out to test the waters for the resolution in October, there was little support for it among the other four permanent members of the Security Council: Britain, France, China and the Soviet Union, for differing reasons.

British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher felt that the anti-Iraq alliance already had the necessary authority to fight. She believed a U.N. resolution might fail, and could court disaster if saddled with conditions or vetoes. French President Francois Mitterrand wanted to avoid "automatic" use of force. But neither Britain nor France would stand in the way. Mitterrand said Bush asked him only one question, "Do you think it necessary to adopt a new resolution in the Security Council possibly authorizing the recourse to force?" and he replied, "Yes."

China's foreign minister, Qian Qichen, indicated that Beijing would not stand in the way of a Security Council resolution, but U.S. officials worried about what appeared to be an intense debate among the Chinese leadership. Chinese officials said they felt acutely the need to normalize relations with the United States. Shevardnadze went to Beijing because the Soviets, too, wanted to make sure they would not be embarrassed by a Chinese veto. Baker invited Qian to Washington, which appears to have been the key factor in persuading China to not veto the resolution. In the end, Beijing abstained.

Unlike previous U.S. diplomacy at the United Nations, Bush and Baker had lobbied for the resolution from the top down, lining up the leaders instead of their representatives in New York, whom they viewed with some suspicion. Both Malaysia and Colombia, not often receptive to U.S. appeals, were won over this way. But overtures to Cuba and Yemen did not succeed.