WITH the United Nations embargo placing an ever-tighter stranglehold on Iraq, President Saddam Hussein continues to probe for cracks in the international front arrayed against him. The key target of that search continues to be France, which has sent different signals or ``nuances'' to Iraq than those of the United States, analysts here say.
While Saddam Hussein has a certain amount of sympathy from some Arab countries and Cuba, he desperately needs to exploit whatever international unease exists regarding the hard line taken by the world's major powers.
Iraq's announcement that it would release nine French hostages yesterday is seen here as part of Saddam's ``charm campaign'' to encourage these French ``nuances.'' A spokesman for the Elys'ee, the French presidential palace, says: ``Who wouldn't rejoice [at such an announcement]? But that changes nothing of the fundamental situation.''
The spokesman was echoing the words of French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, who earlier repeated that no peaceful solution of the crisis was possible without Iraq releasing all foreign hostages and withdrawing from Kuwait.
These latest Iraqi overtures to France, referred to here as a ``psychological offensive,'' began Sunday with a speech by Saddam. ``We are in the process of opening up contacts with the French government'' as an initial step toward peacefully resolving the crisis, he said. Mr. Dumas immediately denied Saddam's remarks.
``This is just part of Saddam Hussein's game ever since the beginning. But so far the tactic hasn't won any clients,'' a Foreign Ministry diplomat says. Iraq is desperate because its military preparedness is being crimped by the embargo, he adds, and the possibility of the Soviet Union joining a United Nations resolution approving military intervention looms large.
Still, the diplomat acknowledged that French President Fran,cois Mitterrand's speech before the UN last week may have encouraged Saddam to sweeten his tone toward France. The speech contained ``a little different accent'' from the general Western line, he said.
Even though Mr. Mitterrand insisted on retreat from Kuwait and the hostages' freedom for peace to come about, he added that under those two conditions ``everything becomes possible.''