THE British Parliament is to meet in an extraordinary session tomorrow, on the eve of the Soviet-American summit in Helsinki, to forge all-party support for a long-haul approach to the Gulf crisis. The move reflects a widespread feeling about the seriousness of the crisis, a striking national consensus in support of firm action, and a determination by all but a tiny group of left-wing members of Parliament (MPs) to back the government's firm handling of the crisis so far.
A private agreement between Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and the leaders of all opposition parties has laid the framework for a two-day debate. The MPs are expected to review progress in the confrontation with Iraq and reaffirm backing for the United States-led Gulf defense effort, of which Britain is a chief supporter.
Defense and diplomatic estimates here forecast a lengthy struggle to ensure the United Nations-backed sanctions program is effective and that Iraq makes no further aggressive moves.
By calling back parliamentarians from vacation, the prime minister hopes to persuade them and the nation that the need now is to retain unity in the face of a propaganda strategy by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, including moral pressure over Western hostages.
Mrs. Thatcher will open the special debate and Neil Kinnock, leader of the Labour Party opposition, will reply. Parliament will also hear reports from Douglas Hurd, foreign secretary, and Tom King, defense secretary - both of whom have just returned from extensive tours of Gulf countries.
Mr. Hurd said Saturday in Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates, that he believed Saddam's decision to begin releasing Western hostages was the start of an abandonment of the ``human shield'' policy, which he described as ``repulsive.'' But the hopes of a diplomatic solution to the crisis were ``thin,'' and much would depend on maintaining sanctions against Iraq at a high level of effectiveness.
Underlining Britain's firm stand, which is being maintained in close coordination with the US, Hurd said he ruled out compromise proposals put forward by some Arab leaders that would give Iraq the Kuwaiti-held islands of Bubiyan and Warbah in the Gulf, in return for an Iraqi withdrawal from the rest of Kuwait.
British resistance to such proposals was made clear Friday when Thatcher rebuffed King Hussein of Jordan, who presented her a compromise plan during a visit to London. A Downing Street official said afterward that, although Britain still counted itself a friend of Jordan, Thatcher had made it ``crystal clear'' to the king that there could be no ``appeasing dictators.''
British resistance to such proposals was reemphasized on Sunday, when Thatcher said Iraq's taking of hostages would not deter her from taking the ``necessary action.''
``If you allow the taking of hostages to determine your own action against a dictator, he has won, and all he would ever do is to take hostages, knowing that other people would then never take the requisite action to stop such a dictator,'' she said.
The prime minister caused a flurry in European capitals last week by criticizing the ``patchy and disappointing'' efforts of some of them to support US actions in the Gulf.
The only countries in Europe that had done ``significantly more than the minimum'' were Britain and France, she said.
Government sources said afterward that Thatcher was particularly disappointed by West German and Italian military responses. West German and Italian spokesmen quickly rebutted the criticism. Gerald Kaufman, the Labour Party's ``shadow'' foreign secretary, said he was amazed that Thatcher had found it necessary to make such ``divisive'' remarks.