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Quandary for U.S.: No End in Sight in Gulf War

November 06, 1987|MICHAEL ROSS | Times Staff Writer

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Another attempt by U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to arrange a truce in the Persian Gulf War appears to have failed, deepening a conviction shared by diplomats and Arab officials that no early end is in sight to the seven-year-old conflict between Iran and Iraq.

This, in turn, poses difficult questions for the United States. Its naval forces in the gulf appear increasingly to be mired in a conflict they can neither end nor withdraw from without seriously damaging U.S. credibility in the Middle East.

An emergency summit meeting of the Arab League is to be held next week in Amman, Jordan, and the Arab states of the gulf region are going in the hope of forging a common stand against Iran in the face of its recent missile attacks on Kuwait and the riots by Iranian pilgrims in the Muslim holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia on July 31.

Syria Stands in the Way

Syria, however, is expected to oppose a strong anti-Iranian stand, and the gulf states themselves are divided, with the smaller and more vulnerable sheikdoms along the southern rim of the gulf fearful of the consequences of antagonizing Iran.

Hopes that the Amman meeting might still be able to send a sobering message to Iran were further set back by the announcement earlier this week that Saudi Arabia's King Fahd would not be attending. The Saudis had been leading the campaign for a united front against Tehran, and Fahd's decision against attending personally was seen as a sign that they do not expect to get it.

Other diplomatic efforts to pressure Iran into accepting a cease-fire in the gulf war appear to have fared no better.

The Perez de Cuellar initiative continues, with senior Iraqi and Iranian representatives due in New York after the Amman meeting for another round of talks with the secretary general.

But written replies from Iran and Iraq to Perez de Cuellar's latest peace proposals indicate that the two sides are far apart, with Iran still insisting that Iraq be branded the aggressor in the war and made to pay reparations before a truce is officially declared. Iraq insists that a cease-fire and Iranian withdrawal from occupied Iraqi territory be unconditional and binding and be implemented before any other steps in the U.N. peace plan are discussed.

"I'm pretty pessimistic about the U.N. effort," a Western diplomat said. "If anything, the two sides seem to have hardened their positions since the secretary general's last visit." He referred to Perez de Cuellar's talks in Tehran and Baghdad in September.

A separate Soviet peace effort also appears to have failed.

The Soviets, arguing that more time was needed for diplomacy, blocked earlier U.S. efforts to get the Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Iran for its rejection of the council's July 20 call for a cease-fire, which Iraq has said it will accept provided Iran does.

But a Soviet peace initiative, undertaken by Yuli M. Vorontsov, a first deputy foreign minister, ended abruptly in Tehran last week when Hashemi Rafsanjani, Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, accused the United Nations of trying to impose an "untimely . . . and unjust" settlement on Iran and added that the war would end only when Iran has achieved "victory on the battlefield."

'No Hope for a Solution'

Any hope that this might not represent Iran's official view appeared to be dispelled Thursday when Iranian Prime Minister Hussein Moussavi told Tehran radio that "we have no hope for a solution of the war through the Security Council."

Diplomats here believe that the next step on the diplomatic front will be another U.S.-led push for an arms embargo against Iran in line with the enforcement provisions of the Security Council resolution, which called for sanctions against the party that rejected it.

However, the imposition of sanctions still poses a difficult foreign policy dilemma for the Soviet Union, and diplomats remain divided as to whether the Soviets are ready to support such a move.

Moscow is Iraq's principal arms supplier and has recently made a number of significant diplomatic gains in the Arab world that it does not want to jeopardize by appearing to side with Iran or by obstructing a settlement of the war, diplomats noted.

On the other hand, a Soviet vote in favor of sanctions would surely arrest the momentum of Moscow's expanding relations with Iran, where it has vital security interests, given Iran's position on the Soviet border and its potential for stirring up trouble among Soviet Muslims.

The Vorontsov initiative was widely viewed here as an attempt to avoid having to make this difficult choice by finding a formula under which both Iran and Iraq could accept the U.N. peace plan.

If, where the United States has failed, the "Soviets could somehow succeed in playing a mediating role, they'd gain tremendous points here," a Western diplomat noted.

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