Saddam Hussein has agreed to release some sick and elderly American captives, the leader of the American-Iraqi Association said Monday. The Iraqi leader also asked his parliament to consider letting all French hostages leave.

Salim Mansour, the head of the American-Iraqi Association, said he received a commitment from the Iraqi leader Sunday night to release Americans."We don't want to talk about figures or names at the moment, but I'm happy to announce that some good news will come up," Mansour said.

About 700 Americans are being held in Kuwait and more than 300 in Iraq, many at strategic sites to deter a possible attack by the multinational forces arrayed against Iraq in the Persian Gulf.

American and Australian sailors, meanwhile, halted and boarded an Iraqi freighter in the Gulf of Oman that over the weekend had ignored warning shots and defied orders to return to Iraq, a U.S. military spokesman said.

The 5,200-ton Iraqi vessel, Al-Bahar al-Arabi, was stopped as it sailed toward the Arabian Sea. It had been shadowed during the night by U.S. and Italian warships, said Cmdr. J.D. Van Sickle, a Navy spokesman.

The operation went smoothly with "no shots fired, no resistance met," Van Sickle said. He said the boarding was still in progress and the crew of the Iraqi ship was cooperating with the boarding party.

Saturday, the Al-Bahar al-Arabi had agreed to turn back to Iraq because its cargo was prohibited under the sanctions, Navy sources said. They said the ship was carrying plywood and steel pipes.

Also Monday, oil prices in New York opened down more than $3 a barrel - at $30.65. In London, North Sea Brent Blend oil fell to $29.10. Since the gulf crisis began, oil prices have fluctuated wildly on world markets, reaching above $40 a barrel at times, compared with pre-crisis levels of $22 a barrel.

In other developments:

- Diplomats in Baghdad said a letter from Americans and other Westerners detained at strategic sites in Iraq reached a Western embassy Monday. In the handwritten note, the captives complained about their treatment.

- Britain said Monday that Iraqi troops in Kuwait have rounded up seven more Britons and are holding them at the occupied city's Regency Hotel to await transfer to Iraq. The news comes one day after former British Prime Minister Edward Heath said Saddam had promised to release an unspecified number of sick and elderly British hostages on Tuesday.