Soviet leaders backed off Saturday from initial praise of Iraq's peace proposal but pressed ahead with their own diplomatic efforts that include talks with Iraq's foreign minister.

President Mikhail Gorbachev at first greeted an Iraqi offer on Friday to withdraw from Kuwait "with satisfaction and hope."But at an unusual Saturday briefing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Vitaly Churkin said that the Iraqi offer was insufficient to end the Persian Gulf war.

"Unfortunately, that basic provision is linked to a number of conditions likely to render it meaningless," Churkin said.

But, he said, the fact that Iraq was showing a willingness to talk about a pullout was significant. "We continue to hope that this statement is going to mark a starting point in movement toward peace," he said.

"The Iraqi leadership is talking about the possibility of withdrawing," Churkin said. "We would like to pursue this line in discussions with them."

Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh spoke by telephone Friday night with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a spokesman said. By Saturday, Soviet officials appeared to modify their praise of Iraq's offer to link a Kuwaiti pullout with other Middle East conflicts.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin's multi-faceted peace initiative continued as Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz was preparing to head to Moscow for a two-day visit that would include meetings Monday with Gorbachev and Bessmertnykh.

The trip was originally set for Sunday, but Ghalib al-Timimi, a counselor at the Iraqi Embassy in Moscow, told The Associated Press that the trip could be delayed until Monday. He would not say whether Aziz would carry any messages or proposals to Moscow.

President Bush told reporters in Kennebunkport, Maine, that the Soviet Union is playing a "constructive role" in trying to end the gulf war.

Administration officials on Saturday said Gorbachev had asked the United States to hold off on launching a ground war against Iraq until the Aziz-Gorbachev talks were concluded.