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Iran to Clear Disputed Waterway in Bid to Break Talks Deadlock

From Times Wire Services

Iran announced Monday that it has agreed to clear the disputed Shatt al Arab waterway, blocked by mines and sunken ships, in a concession aimed at breaking deadlocked peace negotiations with Iraq.

But the concession does not mean that Iran now recognizes Iraqi sovereignty over the strategic waterway, diplomatic and other sources said.

Iranian military commander Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, meanwhile, told a gathering of elite Revolutionary Guard commanders in a southwestern border town that it seems unlikely Iraq will resume the Persian Gulf War. It was the first time Rafsanjani has played down the possibility of renewed Iraqi attacks.

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati told a news conference in Tehran that his country has dropped its objection to an Iraqi demand to clear the Shatt al Arab, which forms the southern end of the border between the Persian Gulf adversaries.

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Velayati was quoted by Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying his country made the concession to remove an issue that has deadlocked the U.N.-mediated negotiations between Iran and Iraq.

There was no immediate official response from Iraq.

The talks began in Geneva in late August, five days after the two sides began observing a cease-fire monitored by a U.N. observer force, but were suspended in a dispute over the Shatt al Arab.

On Oct. 8, Iranian media quoted Velayati as saying the two countries had agreed on a three-point plan offered by U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, excluding dredging of the Shatt. That statement was swiftly denied by a senior Iraqi Foreign Ministry official, who said the proposal was still being studied.

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Velayati said Iran’s new concession is based on the recognition of the spirit of a 1975 treaty, which defines the Iran-Iraq border as running down the middle of the waterway.

Iraq rejects the treaty.


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