The Soviet Union has backed the United States in rejecting gulf crisis talks with Iraq on Baghdad's proposed date of Jan. 12, three days before a U.N. deadline for Iraq to quit Kuwait, a senior Soviet official said Monday.

Moscow's backing is another indication of strong superpower unity on the Persian Gulf crisis and was expressed by Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in talks earlier in the day with Secretary of State James Baker, the official said."We support and understand the rationale given by the U.S. administration for suggesting dates for the meeting which you all know," said the official, who briefed reporters on condition that he not be identified.

During the first of three days of talks with Baker, Shevardnadze expressed "our support for that schedule proposed by the United States," the official added.

Whether the United States and the Soviet Union were also together on a controversial U.N. resolution concerning Israel's treatment of Palestinians and a proposed Middle East peace conference was unclear.

The Soviet official said Moscow still believed a conference was a good idea but refused to say if it agreed with Washington that endorsing it now in a U.N. resolution would serve to advance Iraq's effort link the gulf crisis to other Middle Eastern issues.

President Bush initially proposed direct talks with Baghdad on the gulf crisis between Dec.15 and Jan. 15, the deadline set by the United Nations for Iraq to withdraw troops from Kuwait or risk war with the U.S.-led international coalition arrayed against it.

The plan is to have Iraqi Foreign minister Tareq Aziz come to Washington to meet Bush and then have Baker go to Baghdad to meet Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

The United States has accepted Baghdad's proposal to have Aziz make his visit on Dec. 17 but rejected Baghdad's proposal for Baker to go there on Jan. 12.