U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar ended his peace mission to the Persian Gulf on Tuesday, apparently without bringing Iran and Iraq closer to an agreement to end their seven-year-old war.
The U.N. leader, who left the Iraqi capital of Baghdad for Paris, is due back in New York tonight to report to the Security Council on the results of his four days of discussions in Tehran and Baghdad with Iranian and Iraqi leaders.
Upon arriving in Paris, Perez de Cuellar read a statement saying he had received "very clear responses" during his peace-seeking mission, but he declined to go into details before informing the Security Council.
With the United States and other foreign powers increasingly being drawn into the Iran-Iraq War to protect civilian shipping in the gulf, the Security Council dispatched Perez de Cuellar to the region to try to secure the implementation of Resolution 598, the Council's July 20 call for a mandatory cease-fire.
No Iranian Acceptance
Iraq has already said that it would accept the resolution if Iran does. However, despite what some officials saw as hopeful signs of a new Iranian flexibility, it was clear that Perez de Cuellar had failed to secure Iran's acceptance of the cease-fire plan, either as written or in any form that would likely remain acceptable to Iraq.
Indeed, several Western diplomats, speaking on the condition they not be further identified, said that, in their assessment, the secretary general's mission had been "a failure." They dismissed the Iranian hints of flexibility as insufficient and probably insincere.
"He will phrase it more diplomatically in his report to the council, but the bottom line is that Perez de Cuellar's mission failed," said one Western diplomat who follows events in Iran closely. "The Iranians did not budge."
As Perez de Cuellar wound up two days of talks in Baghdad, Iraq called upon the Security Council to take "punitive measures" against Iran for rejecting the resolution, which calls for the imposition of sanctions against either belligerent that refuses to obey the call for a cease-fire.
The official Iraqi News Agency said President Saddam Hussein also told Perez de Cuellar that any attempts to alter or dilute the resolution would be unacceptable to Iraq.
Formally, Iran has neither accepted nor flatly rejected the resolution, which it has termed acceptable in some parts and unacceptable in others.
Hussein, the Iraqi agency said, informed Perez de Cuellar of Iraq's suspicion that this ambiguous Iranian response was merely a "maneuvering tactic" designed to stave off sanctions, not a signal of its willingness to negotiate.
Before leaving Baghdad, a U.N. official traveling with Perez de Cuellar told reporters that while the secretary general had not persuaded the Iranians to accept a cease-fire, he thought he had detected in Tehran "at least an atmosphere that might start some movement" toward a settlement. The war now, as it nears the end of its seventh year, is one of the longest conventional conflicts of this century.
"There seems to be a certain movement. Maybe (it's) not enough, but at least you can talk about things which before . . . we were not even able to discuss," the source said, referring to a previous peace mission to Tehran by Perez de Cuellar in April, 1985.
"Cease-fire--before, we never even bothered to speak about that," the source added. "Now we can say it . . . so at least you can mention taboo words."
Reagan Administration officials, quoted in news reports from Washington on Monday, echoed this faintly optimistic view, saying Iran's decision to even discuss a cease-fire with Perez de Cuellar could represent a subtle but significant policy shift that might be a response to international pressure.
Skeptical of Assessment
However, a number of diplomats based in the gulf were highly skeptical of this assessment.
They said they thought that Iranian officials, in making contradictory statements that cloud their position toward Resolution 598, were deliberately mixing their signals in an effort to play for time and undermine the U.S. plan to press for an arms embargo against Iran.
"The Iranians are trying to set themselves up diplomatically to minimize the damage" of not accepting Resolution 598, one diplomat said.
Although the Security Council was unanimous in calling for a cease-fire, the next step--an arms embargo--may be more difficult because two of the council's permanent members, the Soviet Union and China, have substantial interests that could be jeopardized by such a move.
The Soviets recently have been improving their diplomatic and economic ties with Tehran, a trend they would like to see continue, while the Chinese are Iran's largest supplier of weapons.
Embargo May Be Sought
In Washington, Assistant Secretary of State Richard W. Murphy said the United States is likely to seek an international arms embargo against Iran if, as it appeared Tuesday, Tehran still refuses to accept the cease-fire call.
"We will work to adopt the second resolution, probably an international arms embargo," Murphy told a House foreign affairs subcommittee. "If the secretary general returns without an acceptance of the resolution by Iran, I am optimistic the Security Council will move to adopt."
Murphy said he expects the French and British to support the resolution, and there is a "good prospect" the Chinese will do so. He said he does not expect the Soviet Union to veto such a resolution.
Apart from undermining the Security Council's unanimity and resolve in pressing for an end to the war, the Iranian strategy also seems designed to exploit the pressure that is mounting on Iraq, while diplomatic efforts are under way, to refrain from resuming the so-called tanker war in the gulf, diplomats said.
Using its superior air power to attack Iranian oil installations and tankers carrying Iranian crude oil out of the gulf has proven to be Baghdad's most effective weapon against Iran so far.
But since the Security Council's cease-fire appeal and the suspension of the tanker war, Iran has been shipping out oil "as fast as it can pump it," one diplomat noted.
Noting Iran's success, Iraq late last month briefly resumed the tanker war after a six-week lull. Although another de facto truce has been in effect since Perez de Cuellar's arrival in the region last week, gulf-based diplomats said they expect the attacks to resume shortly.
With the tanker war truce temporarily holding, however, commercial vessels are sailing in and out of the gulf in sharply increased numbers.