TROIS ILETS, Martinique -- Following their staunch and solid cooperation during the Persian Gulf war, the United States and France returned yesterday to prewar disagreements over how to achieve a lasting peace in the Middle East.
President Bush flew to this Caribbean resort island at the request of French President Francois Mitterrand to discuss Mr. Bush's renewed drive to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
But after about three hours of talks at a lush mountain plantation, the two leaders still did not see eye-to-eye on such issues as creation of a Palestinian state, an international conference on the Middle East, a summit of the five leading members of the United Nations Security Council or a continuing role for coalition forces in southern Iraq.
The most optimistic cast Mr. Bush could put on the session -- as well as on his entire peace initiative -- was to hint that there were ideas raised in private that he did not yet choose to reveal publicly.
The president asserted, however, that he is as determined to solve the Palestinian problem as he was to liberate Kuwait from Iraq. At a joint news conference with Mr. Mitterrand, Mr. Bush called their meeting
"exceptionally productive consultations" toward that end.
He later flew off to Bermuda, where he continues his postwar talks tomorrow with British Prime Minister John Major.
No discernible headway was made in his meeting with Mr. Mitterrand or from what Mr. Bush was able to report of Secretary of State James A. Baker III's trip to the Middle East.
For example, Mr. Baker's meeting in Syria with President Hafez el Assad was "very long" and "interesting," Mr. Bush said. But it yielded no "positive points for optimism" on the fate of Western hostages held by groups with which Syria is believed to have some influence.
"Let's hope the Baker trip will be the first and then there will be some more steps," Mr. Bush said. "Maybe the French will go off and do something."
Among the president's points of disagreement with the French leader was how to handle Iraq's reported use of helicopters as gunships to fire on Kurds and other rebels.
While not directly threatening military action, Mr. Bush said yesterday that U.S. forces would not leave southern Iraq until there was a permanent cease-fire. He noted that such a cease-fire would be very difficult to reach if Iraqi President Saddam Hussein continued to violate the terms laid down by the U.S.-led coalition forces.
"Even if very often what we're seeing is a very sorry spectacle . . . we cannot arbitrate by military means all the conflict in that part of the world," Mr. Mitterrand retorted.
While expressing the hope that Iraq would abide by the terms of the cease-fire, he insisted, "As far as France is concerned, that particular period of our intervention in the Middle East is now terminated."
On the question of a Palestinian homeland, Mr. Bush was asked how he would square the U.S. policies of urging Israel to trade land for peace while continuing to oppose a Palestinian state.
"We do not have a set formula as to how that question should be resolved," Mr. Bush said, adding that Jordan would have to be included somehow in the equation.
President Mitterrand warned, however, that history indicated it was "dangerous" to refuse a people "any form of identity."
He said he remained faithful to the original United Nations intentions of creating both a Jewish and a Palestinian state in the Middle East, even though they have now been "forgotten" by others.
The United States is cool to Mr. Mitterrand's proposals for an international conference on the Middle East.