UNITED NATIONS, FEB. 12 -- The political fallout of the Persian Gulf War is expected to dominate proceedings as the 15 members of the Security Council attempt to meet formally Wednesday for the first time since authorizing the use of force against Iraq on Nov. 29.

The tensions generated by the war have been reflected in informal consultations of the council, where a group of Arab countries along with Cuba and Sudan have been pushing for an open meeting in order to criticize the hostilities and in some cases to call for a cease-fire. Yemen, Sudan, and the Maghreb Federation -- Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania and Tunisia -- have requested a meeting or supported one.

But the United States and its allies have been equally firm in insisting that any meeting of the council at this time be closed, arguing that an open debate could turn into a forum for propaganda and result in prolonging the war.

"We don't want a meeting that gives Saddam Hussein the impression that the council is divided," a U.S. official said. "That will only result in a longer war, and more people will die."

Before the formal meeting, diplomats are scheduled to meet to try to work out its format, and a procedural vote is expected on the issue Wednesday afternoon. If the formal meeting is closed, the speeches would not be televised, but a communique would be issued afterwards and possibly a transcript of the proceedings.

At present, the United States and the allies in the gulf coalition force are trying to muster a minimum of nine votes in favor of a closed meeting, and diplomats say they are expected to succeed.

However, the members of the Mahgreb Federation have said that if the meeting is closed, they will not participate.

The Soviet Union has been among those countries strongly opposed to an open meeting. "If it's an open meeting, all 159 countries {in the United Nations} are going to want to speak," a senior Soviet official said. "But if it's closed, then there's less interest and only a few want to speak."

The argument that an open meeting might reveal a divided council and send the wrong signal to Iraq is challenged by some Arab and nonaligned countries.

"That there are differences in the Security Council is perfectly normal in a democratic organization," said Ecuadoran Ambassador Jose Ayala Lasso, whose country has one of the 10 rotating seats on the council.

"I think the wrong message is transmitted when there is opposition to an open meeting. There are antiwar demonstrations in Latin America, in the U.S., in Arab countries and Europe which are demanding a more dynamic demonstration of the council's activities."

Some countries are expected to argue that the earlier resolutions, while calling for the liberation of Kuwait, did not endorse destruction of Iraq's industrial facilities. They are also expected to criticize the civilian deaths, which Iraqi authorities now say are in the thousands.

"In the light that we've exceeded 60,000 sorties," U.S. Ambassador Thomas Pickering said, "the casualties the Iraqis claim are remarkably low and a high tribute to the accuracy of the bombing effort."