AFTER months of unprecedented cooperation with the United Nations Security Council to reverse the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, United States diplomats are trying to avoid confrontation over the Palestinian question. US diplomats say they cannot support a Council resolution endorsing an international peace conference on the Middle East - despite the fact that the proposed language conforms precisely to long-standing American policy.
The diplomats explain that President Bush is determined to avoid any hint of reward for Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, who has suggested a comprehensive framework to solve all Middle East problems. They add that they could not allow the Council to adopt decisions affecting Israel which Israel could not accept.
Soviet Ambassador Yuli Vorontsov, who moved to defer a vote Saturday, said earlier that there was no particular time constraint and that the Council should take the time to get the text right. But, he said, the Soviets would insist on retaining some reference to the eventual convening of a Middle East peace conference.
The proposal endorsed the convening of a ``properly structured'' international peace conference ``at the appropriate time.''
``We need some more time to have a decision that will really help the Palestinians,'' he explained after Saturday's move. He added that he felt the US delegation was trying ``in earnest'' to find acceptable language.
In the recent high-level Security Council session that set the Jan. 15 deadline for Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze suddenly reversed Soviet policy on Israel. Mr. Shevardnadze declared that ``the Soviet Union is prepared to develop further its contacts with all the parties concerned in seeking a settlement of the Middle East conflict.... We are ready to engage in dialogue, in any form and at any level, with Israel.''
The Soviets have previously said that ties broken off with Israel after the October 1973 Middle East war could not be restored until Israel agreed to a UN-sponsored peace conference.
But on the eve of his visit to New York and Washington this week, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir again rejected the idea of an international conference, saying he favored only direct talks with Israel's Arab neighbors.
Thomas Pickering, the US ambassador to the UN, made a ``courtesy call'' on Mr. Shamir Saturday, but refused to give any details of their discussion.