Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, on a mission to Moscow to discuss the Persian Gulf crisis, met with President Mikhail S. Gorbachev Wednesday amid Soviet calls for a peaceful settlement to the dispute.

Oil prices climbed after U.S. and exiled Kuwaiti officials ruled out a possible compromise solution to the crisis in which Iraq would withdraw from most of Kuwait but be permitted to keep some key land.The official Soviet news agency Tass disclosed no details about Cheney's meeting with Gorbachev and Soviet Defense Minister Dimitri Yazov.

Also Wednesday, Western diplomatic sources reported three British men escaped overland from Iraq to Saudi Arabia. The three took a long route across the desert, reaching the area of the Saudi town of Arar late Monday, said the sources in Saudi Arabia. They spoke on condition of anonymity.

No immediate details were available on how the men evaded Iraqi patrols and crossed the border. Their identities were not disclosed, but they were said to be in their 20s or 30s.

Three Britons and two Frenchmen escaped Iraq by sea earlier this month, but there have been no reported overland escapes since then.

Thousands of Westerners remain trapped in occupied Kuwait and Iraq, either in hiding or detained by the government of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Saddam's troops invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2.

Hundreds of Western hostages are being used as human shields at Iraqi military and other strategic installations to deter attack by the U.S.-led multinational force deployed against Iraq in the gulf and Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, Soviet Middle East expert Yevgeny Primakov was on a trip to Europe and the United States to discuss the gulf crisis. He arrived in Paris Wednesday for talks with French President Francois Mitterrand.

"The Soviet leadership believes that if there is the smallest chance to settle the conflict peacefully that chance should be used to the ultimate," Gorbachev spokesman Vitaly Ignatenko said in Moscow on Tuesday.

At the United Nations, diplomats said Britain was drafting a measure to make Iraq pay war reparations, and the United States was seeking to have the world body oversee the resupply of Western diplomats who have refused to quit their countries' embassies in Kuwait City.

The only Western holdouts are the British, Americans, Canadians and French.

Britain's Foreign Office said Wednesday that Iraq had withdrawn diplomatic accreditation from eight British diplomatic personnel evacuated from Kuwait to Baghdad. It said Iraq's ambassador had been summoned to hear a protest against Baghdad's "flagrant disregard for international law."

Britain also told the Iraqi ambassador that British nationals who have suffered damage or injury since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait intend to demand compensation, a Foreign Office spokesman said.

Oil prices continued to reflect fears over the crisis, closing just short of $39 on Tuesday, up nearly $1. The rise was attributed in part to signs of a hardened U.S. position toward Saddam.

Kuwaitis fleeing into Saudi Arabia said the Iraqis were setting up fences that separate most of Kuwait from the Rumailah field, which Saddam accused the Kuwaitis of overexploiting before he invaded and annexed their country.

A U.N.-ordered embargo on trade with Iraq, enforced by a multinational flotilla, has caused shortages in Iraq but has so far failed to force Saddam to back down. The Pentagon says about 430,000 Iraqi troops are in Kuwait, and have been building roads and fortifications.