RIYADH, SAUDI ARABIA — WOULD-BE peacemakers in the Gulf war say they have not given up hope of securing a cease-fire, but admit their chances of success appear to be minimal. ``As a human being I always keep hope,'' says a senior Arab diplomat here involved in peace overtures. ``But as a diplomat I see only an absolute determination to continue the war until its end.''
The United States and Britain last week scuppered a North African initiative at the United Nations to call for a pause in the air strikes against Iraq. But this has not deterred other countries from trying.
Iran, for example, has sought to convene an emergency session of the Islamic Conference Organization (ICO), but has so far failed to persuade the required two-thirds majority of the 46-member grouping that such a meeting would help.
``Member countries are still in shock,'' the Arab diplomat says. ``They are not yet in a position to judge the chances of success of such an initiative.''
Another idea from Iran, which has maintained neutrality in the war, came over the weekend from Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karrubi. He proposed a simultaneous withdrawal of Iraqi troops from Kuwait and Western forces from Saudi Arabia, and their replacement by Muslim peacekeeping units.
But the plan also called for a halt to Russian immigration to Israel, smacking of previous efforts - all rejected by the coalition - to link the Gulf crisis with the Palestinian question.
Meanwhile, Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif just ended a Middle East tour during which he sought a Muslim resolution to the conflict within the framework of the nonaligned movement. But Mr. Sharif's efforts, which took him to Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt - all part of the anti-Iraq coalition - and to Iran and Jordan, which are not, appeared doomed to the same fate as the North African peace plan.
The latter, aside from the rebuff at the UN, was rejected at a weekend meeting here of foreign ministers from the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. ``The Mahgreb initiative never stood a chance,'' a Gulf official says.
Western diplomats said that the absence of any indication from Baghdad that President Saddam Hussein would reconsider his refusal to withdraw from Kuwait made it certain that peace initiatives tried so far would fail. All the proposals have involved Iraq's immediate withdrawal from Kuwait.
Some diplomats, however, suggest that a prolonged bombing campaign against Iraq might lend impetus to future peace bids. ``Even if the allied forces are acting under the umbrella of United Nations resolutions, they have gone beyond them,'' argues the Arab diplomat. ``Those resolutions foresee the liberation of Kuwait, not the destruction of Iraq, and especially not of its people.''
Even a Gulf official, speaking privately, voiced reservations about the conduct of the war so far. ``People are asking, if the goal is to liberate Kuwait, why has the war not started in Kuwait?,'' he asks. ``We would understand two or three days bombing of targets in Iraq, but 10 days?''
Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh expressed similar reservations over the weekend, concerned about the prospect of the Gulf war becoming too destructive and claiming too many lives.