UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ The U.N. Security Council urged member states Saturday to prepare for a multinational force for Zaire but delayed a decision on sending foreign troops to deliver aid to refugees displaced by ethnic fighting.

France had proposed the council authorize sending a multinational force to eastern Zaire to reopen aid corridors closed by the fighting between Tutsi rebels and the Zairian army.

But the United States, Russia and others balked at authorizing such a force at this time and held out hope that a cease-fire might allow humanitarian aid shipments to resume without foreign military protection.

U.S. officials said they needed more time to consider a response to the crisis, which erupted because of the presence of more than one million mostly Hutu refugees who fled to Zaire to escape ethnic slaughter in Rwanda and Burundi in 1994.

``We must seek a more lasting solution which not only provides for the delivery of humanitarian assistance but also provides for the secure and orderly repatriation of refugees,'' U.S. Deputy Ambassador Karl Inderfurth said. ``We believe that a carefully planned and coordinated international force can make a critical contribution. This resolution lays the basis for such a force.''

The original French proposal would have authorized member states to send a multinational force for no more than two months to ``allow the safe delivery of humanitarian aid'' and establish ``protected zones'' for the refugees.

U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali said Friday that a humanitarian disaster in eastern Zaire cannot be averted ``without the deployment, at least for a short period, of an international military force.''

But the resolution, adopted unanimously, ``strongly urges'' member states to prepare ``necessary arrangements,'' including a multinational force, to allow for humanitarian aid and ``help create the necessary conditions'' for the refugees to return home.

It called on Boutros-Ghali to prepare a plan ``with military assistance if necessary'' to aid the refugees and submit his recommendations to the council by next Wednesday.

Zaire's acting U.N. Ambassador Lukabu Khabouji welcomed the resolution as a ``first step to a future involvement of the international community in solving this crisis.''

``Unfortunately my delegation wishes to express its deep regrets that no immediate humanitarian action is undertaken,'' he added. ``We would have hoped that the Security Council would have adopted the necessary measures to address the humanitarian disaster that has already begun.''