Iran Accepts U.N.'s Terms on Iraq Truce : Tehran Agrees to Year-Old Measure to Halt Gulf War
After nearly eight years of war in the Persian Gulf, Iran announced Monday that it has accepted the terms of a U.N. resolution calling for a cease-fire with Iraq.
In a letter to U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, Iranian President Ali Khamenei said that “because of the importance (Iran) attaches to saving the lives of human beings and the establishment of justice and regional and international peace and security,” his country has accepted U.N. Security Council Resolution 598.
The resolution was enacted July 20, 1987, and, although Iraq accepted its terms at that time, Iran equivocated and had not given a concrete reply.
Perez de Cuellar, who received word of the Iranian decision at midnight Sunday, said at U.N. headquarters in New York that the Iranian statement “could not be more official.”
Sees Cease-Fire Shortly
He said he thinks there may be a cease-fire “in one week or 10 days” and that “I hope we can expect an early exchange of prisoners.” If both sides comply with the resolution and a cease-fire is observed, it would halt a war that began in September, 1980. The conflict has taken an estimated 1 million lives and cost an estimated $330 billion.
There was no immediate Iraqi response to Khamenei’s letter. Iraq’s minister of information, Latif Nusayyif Jasim, said in Baghdad that his government had not been officially advised of the letter.
He said that, according to news agency accounts, the letter “did not explain the reasons behind Iran’s new stand . . . (except) in terms of tactical reasons.”
Elsewhere, Arab officials, diplomats and other Mideast experts reacted cautiously Monday to the Iranian announcement. Taken by surprise, most Arab governments withheld immediate comment while they assessed its implications.
But many of the initial and unofficial reactions at foreign ministries throughout the Arab world echoed the surprise of the U.S. naval officer who, contacted aboard his ship in the Persian Gulf, exclaimed: “Holy cats! You’ve got to be kidding!”
However, even as Khamenei announced acceptance of the resolution, the Iranian armed forces’ general command was calling on Iranians “to man the war fronts to confront the enemies’ aggressive nature and foil their criminal acts.”
A statement by the command, made public by the official news agency IRNA, said that “all Muslim combatants deployed on the war fronts are prepared to respond to any aggression and movement of the enemy.”
The war has not only drawn in regional powers such as Kuwait and Saudi Arabia but has also involved the United States, which for more than a year has kept a powerful naval force in the Persian Gulf to ensure the safe passage of neutral shipping.
When the Security Council put forth its demand for a cease-fire, a major concern on Iran’s part was the first paragraph of the resolution, which called for a withdrawal of troops to internationally recognized boundaries. At the time, Iran occupied considerable Iraqi territory--on the Faw Peninsula, in the area east of Basra and in northeast Iraq, and the oil-rich Majnoon Islands.
But in a series of offensives that began in April, Iraq has regained virtually all of the territory that it had lost to Iran.
Significantly, Iran made no mention of its earlier demands for the ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and for the payment of reparations to Iran.
However, Khamenei did say in his letter that the conflict “has now gained unprecedented dimensions, bringing other countries into the war and even engulfing innocent civilians.”
“The killing of 290 innocent human beings, caused by the shooting down of an Airbus aircraft of the Islamic Republic of Iran by one of the American warships in the Persian Gulf, is a clear manifestation of this contention,” he said, referring to the July 3 incident in which the U.S. cruiser Vincennes downed an Iranian airliner.
Outside Iraq, there are few experts who question the fact that Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 in an apparent effort to topple the Islamic revolution that had brought down Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979. The offensive proved to be a major miscalculation and served to unite Iranians behind the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. In 1982, Iran counterattacked and drove the Iraqis out.
Resolution 598 provides for the appointment of a neutral panel of experts to assess blame for the war, and this could be used by the Khomeini government to justify its conduct of the war.
Besides the matter of assessing blame, the resolution provides for an immediate exchange of prisoners of war and the dispatch of U.N. observers to ensure that the cease-fire is observed.
Much may depend, officials in the Mideast warned, on how far the Security Council is willing to go in satisfying Iran’s demand for a condemnation of Iraq as the party that started the war.
Break Down in Morale Seen
Nonetheless, its morale broken and its economy in ruins, Iran “simply does not have the ability to continue the war at the moment,” one analyst said.
Even so, “accepting Resolution 598 in principle and accepting it in practice may turn out to be two very different things,” cautioned Augustus R. Norton, a Middle East expert at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y.
“If 598 holds and is really implemented, then we are sitting at a truly momentous and historic juncture in the Middle East,” he said.
But a senior Egyptian military officer said of the announcement: “In the Middle East especially, we have come to know that cease-fires in themselves don’t count for much.”
Several Western analysts described the Iranian move as a “major turning point.” They said it indicates that despite a popular view that Iran is ruled by irrational radicals, moderate voices have prevailed there.
“The Iranians had to opt for the survival of the revolution or the continuation of the war,” R. K. Ramazani, an expert on Iran at the University of Virginia, said in a telephone interview.
Gary Sick, who was an Iran specialist in the National Security Council under President Jimmy Carter, said: “It’s a demonstration of just how difficult things are in Iran right now. They are very concerned about the fate of the revolution as they contemplate Khomeini’s passing from the scene.”
For months, the 87-year-old Khomeini has been reported to be in failing health.
Egypt Calls It ‘Positive Step’
In Cairo, a senior Foreign Ministry official said Egypt welcomes Iran’s “long-overdue” acceptance of a cease-fire as “a positive step.”
However, he added that it remains to be seen whether the Iranians “are sincere in their acceptance of a cease-fire, or whether this is just a tactical maneuver, an attempt to buy time to improve their position and replenish their weapons.”
Other officials expressed similar skepticism. And one senior official, noting the conflicting signals emanating from Tehran in recent weeks, said any hopes must be tempered with caution in view of the current power struggle within the Iranian leadership, which has been divided over whether to continue the war.
In Israel, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said a cease-fire might change military balances in the Middle East and could pose a new threat to the Jewish state. Until its conflict with Iran, Baghdad was a vocal opponent of Israel.
The Iranian general command said in its statement that “world arrogance"--Iranian shorthand for the United States--had come to the aid of the Iraqis, while Iran had no help “save the Almighty.”
It also mentioned Iraq’s recent use of chemical weapons on the battlefield, coupled with what it called the silence of the international community, as another “international plot” that led Tehran to accept the cease-fire.
War’s Turning Point
Iran experts said they believe the turning point in the war actually came in March, 1987, when Iranian Revolutionary Guards failed to make new gains against Iraq. Since then, these experts say, Iran has been seeking a face-saving way out of the war.
There has even been speculation that the series of setbacks that Iran has suffered since April were in fact organized retreats that enabled Tehran to disengage from the Iraqis and make a settlement easier.
On June 2, Khomeini appointed Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, as acting commander in chief and charged him with reorganizing the Iranian military to avoid confusion between the regular army and the more militant Revolutionary Guards.
When Iran Air Flight 655 was downed by the Vincennes earlier this month, Rafsanjani spoke out against any rash attempt to take revenge. This was widely interpreted as evidence that the so-called pragmatic faction had won the upper hand in Tehran.
Only a few months earlier, radical figures such as Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi had vowed that the war would never be ended by political means.
Western analysts said they doubt that Iranians will strongly protest the government’s decision to make a major political concession to Iraq. War weariness, they said, long ago replaced the Iranians’ ardor for combat.
Iran Suffered Most
In terms of war damage, Iran has suffered far more severely than Iraq. A large segment of its oil industry has been destroyed by Iraqi warplanes.
Iraq has had generous assistance from the oil-rich gulf states to rebuild the damage it has suffered and to order new military equipment. Yet it is believed to have taken on $80 billion in debt as a result of the war. In contrast, Iran’s foreign debt is only $500 million, a tiny amount for an oil exporter.
Meanwhile, Canada announced Monday that it had resumed the diplomatic ties with Tehran that were severed eight years ago. France restored relations earlier this year, and Britain is engaged in talks aimed at normalizing relations.
Washington, as a condition of improving relations with Iran, is expected to demand that Iran take steps to bring about the release of nine American hostages in Lebanon. The hostages are believed to be held by Iranian-backed militia groups.
At the United Nations on Monday, as the Security Council met to continue hearings on the downing of the Iranian airliner, representatives from nearly a dozen nations also expressed their reaction to the gulf war announcement.
“It would be most tragic if the outrage that we have all expressed about the tragedy of Iran Air Flight 655 did not translate into immediate, concrete and concerted action to stop the Iran-Iraq War through the implementation of Resolution 598,” said Peter D. Zuze, the representative for Zambia.
Demonstration of Trust
At the same time, Shaukat Umer, the Pakistani representative, said: “Iran has given us a clear demonstration of its trust in the Security Council and its ability to carry out its responsibility. . . . The United Nations stands at the threshold of a historic opportunity to restore peace and tranquillity to a war-torn region.”
But Libya and Cuba, concentrating on the downing of the jet, condemned the United States roundly and held it responsible for the incident.
“We urge the international community to secure the withdrawal of foreign forces from the gulf . . . (and) we welcome discussion that would put an end to the conflict that has existed in the gulf for over seven years,” said Alberto Velazco-San Jose, the alternate permanent representative of Cuba.
Charles P. Wallace reported from Nicosia and Michael Ross from Cairo. Times staff writer Eileen V. Quigley also contributed to this story from New York.