Mikhail Gorbachev indicated Saturday that Iraq may be softening its stand on Kuwait, and the Soviets forced the U.N. Security Council to delay an anti-Iraqi vote in a bid to let peace moves develop over the weekend.

Speaking in Madrid, Gorbachev said the coming days might bring clarification of a change in Iraq's position. The Soviet president's envoy, Yevgeny Primakov, was to meet Sunday in Baghdad with Saddam Hussein.In New York, as the assembled U.N. Security Council members prepared to demand that Iraq pay war reparations, Soviet Ambassador Yuli Vorontsov rushed to the side of his U.S. colleague, Thomas Pickering, and requested a 48-hour delay.

The delay was granted. Vorontsov said later that the postponement would allow Primakov's talks with Saddam to take place in a less tense atmosphere.

In Baghdad, French officials announced that most Frenchmen held by Iraq would be allowed to leave Sunday. Iraqi officials granted 301 French nationals permission to leave but expressed reservations about seven others, they said.

The officials said negotiations were being held to secure exit permits for the seven, who are accused by Iraq of breaking their contracts and abandoning work at a government guest palace under renovation.

Vorontsov's intervention came after Security Council members had agreed to adopt a resolution holding Iraq liable for war damages and economic losses caused by its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.

The new resolution would be the 10th to condemn Iraq since Saddam's forces invaded Kuwait.

It invites nations, companies and individuals to document damages and losses, but does not establish a system for recovering the money.

The resolution further demands that Iraq stop taking hostages and "mistreating and oppressing Kuwaiti and third-state nationals."

Finally, the resolution says Iraq must allow the immediate provision of food, water and basic services to diplomats in missions in Kuwait City.

After Saddam annexed Kuwait, he ordered the missions moved to Baghdad. The U.S., British and French embassies are the last Western holdouts.

At least 210,000 U.S. troops and another 100,000 from other nations have been deployed in the gulf against Iraq's estimated 460,000 soldiers.

But Gorbachev reiterated Saturday that military might should not be used to force Iraq from Kuwait.

"We shouldn't rush in a direction of the conflict that leads to military methods of solution," Gorbachev said at a press conference with Spain's Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez.

The Soviet leader indicated Iraq might be softening its hard-line position on the gulf crisis.

"In recent days, there have been signals from the Iraqi leadership that the solution of problems cannot be achieved through ultimatums," Gorbachev said.