GENEVA, JAN. 8 -- The top diplomats of Iraq and the United States arrived here tonight for the first high-level talks since Iraq invaded Kuwait five months ago, with Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz warning that "Iraq does not yield to pressure" and Secretary of State James A. Baker III wrapping up a day-long sweep through Europe aimed at keeping pressure from U.S. allies focused on Baghdad.

Aziz, in a statement at Cointrin Airport, said he had come in "good faith, open-minded, ready to conduct positive, constructive talks," but he cautioned that repetition of recent hard-line U.S. demands for Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from Kuwait would not produce "positive results."

Aziz said that if the United States is genuinely interested in making "peace in the whole region of the Middle East, then we are ready to reciprocate." But, he added, "if we are going to hear the same kind of talk that has been reiterated in the last few months, then we are going to give the proper answer."

Baker devoted most of the day to struggling with restive allies -- particularly France, which is at odds with the United States over the kind of diplomatic approach that should be taken toward Baghdad. French officials appeared poised to launch their own peacemaking efforts this week if the Baker-Aziz talks break down, and a leading French envoy to Iraq called for France to distance itself from the United States.

Baker and Aziz arrived here amid a flurry of diplomacy among European and Arab countries as both the United States and Iraq appeared to be under intense pressure to find a peaceful solution to the crisis. The showdown between Baker and Aziz comes six days before the Jan. 15 United Nations deadline authorizing the use of force to evict Iraq from Kuwait.

Underscoring the uncertainty and fear of war surrounding the meeting, France indicated today that it would continue pursuing an independent effort to resolve the crisis through diplomacy. President Francois Mitterrand told Baker this morning that France is considering sending another mission to Baghdad immediately after the talks, if necessary, to keep the conflict from sliding into war.

In addition, French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas said that the United States and France remained divided over the wisdom of seeking an international peace conference on the Middle East, as the French plan proposes. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has frequently sought such a conference as part of a settlement in the gulf, but the United States has insisted there be no "linkage" between a gulf settlement and resolution of other gulf conflicts.

Dumas said after Baker's meetings with Mitterrand, "We have both reminded each other of our respective positions. That will not change anything."

Baker has repeatedly expressed concern that the anti-Iraq coalition not send mixed messages to Saddam as the Jan. 15 deadline approaches. After hearing Mitterrand, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Italian Foreign Minister Gianni De Michelis, Baker reemphasized his concern that European diplomacy not leave Saddam with the impression that he could profit by trying to delay.

"We have said for a long time that we welcome any and all efforts to resolve this matter peacefully and politically, providing there is no mixing of the message, and provided that we stay unified to the same degree and extent that we have over the last five months," Baker said.

France's readiness to pursue a last-minute diplomatic initiative if the Baker-Aziz talks fail reflected the growing anxiety among many Europeans about the risks of war. Michel Vauzelle, a French legislator and close confidant of Mitterrand who held more than four hours of talks with Saddam last weekend, said France and Arab countries should no longer let the Americans dictate the course of diplomacy.

"Europeans must not link themselves to this non-dialogue between Americans and Iraqis and spend our days remaining inert while war and peace hang in the balance," Vauzelle said in a radio interview today.

"Why not -- in the six upcoming days, in case the United States and Iraq don't reach agreement -- a French or Franco-Arab initiative?" he asked.

Baker, asked in a Milan news conference about the Vauzelle mission, said he had been briefed on it by French officials. He said he was "hopeful," but "I did not hear anything . . . that leads me to conclude that Saddam Hussein has finally realized that the international community is indeeded serious when they say, 'You must leave Kuwait.' "

Baker indicated that the United States, while attempting to persuade all the coalition partners to take the same approach to Baghdad, would not object to separate diplomatic efforts by allies in the critical six-day period before the U.N. deadline.

Baker seemed to be acknowledging that there is little Washington can do to forestall such third-party diplomacy, which it has attempted to squelch in recent weeks in the interest of maintaining a united front. And Baker stressed that any such independent overtures should not reverse the basic demands of 12 U.N. resolutions condemning Iraq, restricting its trade and demanding its withdrawal.

Even as Mitterrand was meeting with Baker, the French president's chief of staff, Jean-Louis Bianco, was in Algiers discussing the possibility of an eleventh-hour peace initiative with Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid.

The Algerian leader, who is widely respected for his mediating skills, recently toured Middle Eastern capitals and has been seeking to build momentum behind an Arab-brokered agreement that would culminate in direct talks between the Iraqi and Saudi leadership. While Iraq had encouraged Bendjedid, Saudi officials had refused to receive him.

Mitterrand is expected to hold a press conference Wednesday evening to announce his intentions after the Baker-Aziz talks. In the past, Mitterrand has stressed that an Arab diplomatic solution held out the best hope for avoiding war while persuading Saddam to withdraw all of his troops from Kuwait. France's longstanding support for an international conference to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has also been applauded in many Arab capitals, including Baghdad.

In addition to valuing its close ties with many North African and Arab countries, France is worried about an eruption of anti-Western radicalism if war is launched against Iraq. France, Italy and Spain face the possibility that massive Iraqi casualties could spawn acts of terrorism among their large Arab populations and aggravate tensions with North African countries.

{U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar also indicated that he was ready to travel to the Iraqi capital if the Baker-Aziz talks fail, Washington Post special correspondent Trevor Rowe reported from the United Nations. U.N. officials said any trip by Perez de Cuellar would be made on his own initiative and without the formal backing of the U.N. Security Council.}

Aziz arrived here tonight accompanied by Nizar Hamdoon, a deputy foreign minister and former ambassador to Washington. Baker was accompanied by a contingent that included Dennis Ross, director of policy planning, Undersecretary of State Robert M. Kimmitt, and of other officials from the State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council.

Baker, after hopscotching across Europe today with stops in Paris, Bonn and Milan, made a special effort to land in Geneva on time -- Aziz was close behind him, and Baker did not want to be circling in midair while the Iraqi was holding forth on the tarmac. Baker landed first and headed directly for the Intercontinental Hotel, where both delegations are staying on different floors.

Correspondent Marc Fisher reported from Bonn:

After talks with German leaders Tuesday, Baker said he was pleased that Germany, which has kept a low profile in the gulf crisis, stands solidly with the United States in the coalition against Iraq.

But despite the public display of unanimity, differences remain between the U.S. and German positions. While Baker spoke strongly of his Wednesday meeting with Aziz as "the last, best chance for a peaceful political solution," a Bonn Foreign Ministry source said that Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher believes that "diplomatic efforts will not end with the meeting on the ninth, assuming the outcome is negative."

Asked about reports that he has proposed that the anti-Iraqi coalition be prepared to agree that elections be held in Kuwait if it regains its sovereignty, Genscher referred reporters to a European Community statement issued Friday that affirmed the U.N. resolutions against Iraq and said nothing about the future government of Kuwait.

Genscher "doesn't feel very comfortable with the idea that the West would be fighting for the reinstallation of the {monarchy} in Kuwait," a Foreign Ministry source said. "The world would not be fighting for freedom as long as the people in Kuwait cannot vote directly for their government."

Unlike the United States, Germany is willing to asssure Saddam that Arab-Israeli questions would be taken up by an international conference after the liberation of Kuwait.

Genscher supports holding a conference that would include the Palestine Liberation Organization, a Foreign Ministry source said.

King Hussein of Jordan, who is touring Europe to sound out Western leaders on what sort of Arab initiative would be acceptable to the allies, was also in Bonn today. He met with Genscher, Kohl and President Richard von Weizsaecker, but did not see Baker.

United States says Iraq must:

Withdraw unconditionally from Kuwait.

Comply with 12 U.N. Security Council resolutions. Final resolution calls for withdrawal by Jan. 15. If Iraq does not comply, the United States has said it is prepared to lead multi-national forces into war against Iraq.

Restore the legitimate government of Kuwait.

Assure the safety of Americans in the region.

Provide for stability in the region. Other conditions:

Diplomatic solutions must not reward Saddam Hussein's aggression. Withdrawal can not be linked to concessions, such as Saddam's request for an international conference on the Middle East. Even after a peaceful settlement, the United States says efforts will be made to stop Iraq's military buildup and inspect the country's weapons facilities. If Iraq does withdraw unconditionally, the United States has offered assurances that Iraq will not be attacked. Iraq, in Saddam Hussein's Aug. 12 "initiative," calls for:

Replacement of all U.S. and allied forces in Saudi Arabia with an all-Arab force under U.N. guidance.

An end to boycotts and embargos against Iraq, and a return to normal political and economic dealings between Iraq and the rest of the world.

Linkage of "all issues of occupation," including Israel's control of the West Bank and Gaza, Syria's military presence in Lebanon, and Iraq's annexation of Kuwait. Any withdrawal arrangements implemented must begin "with the oldest occupation," i.e., Israel's. Other conditions:

Iraq has stated repeatedly that it will never relinquish Kuwait and that it now considers Kuwait its 19th province. At the time of the invasion, Iraq was demanding control of the Rumailah oilfields, which straddle the border between the two countries, and Warba and Bubiyan, Kuwaiti islands near Iraq's coast that would give Iraq ports directly on the Persian Gulf.