Iran's envoys are busily dispatching messages to neighboring Arab countries -- stern and threatening regarding the Iraqis but somewhat mild and reassuring to the sheikhdoms of the Gulf. The thrust of these messages is:
* If Iraq continues its war, Iran may begin to practice ''hot pursuit'' into Iraqi territory or possibly even try to strike Baghdad.
* If Iraq does not repatriate some 180,000 expelled citizens now in Iranian territory (and being trained in combat), Iran will help them reenter Iraq by force.
* But Iran does not intend to invade, subvert, or extort the Gulf states.
''Iran intends to continue to abide by the 1975 Algiers Treaty with Iraq (delineating the border as it existed until Iraq's 1980 invasion),'' Iranian Ambassador to Kuwait Ali Shams Ardakani told the Monitor. ''We have no claim over Iraqi territory. But if these (Iraqi) attacks do not stop soon, we have to overrun their bases,'' he said.
The ambassador added that this hot-pursuit policy could easily be extended. He said an eventual attack on Baghdad should not be ruled out ''as long as Saddam (Hussein, Iraq's leader) continues his childishness.''
Mr. Ardakani, outspoken, controversial, and American-educated, said the Iranian Army would support the return of 180,000 Iraqis expelled by the Hussein regime and ''will go behind or maybe in front of these people.'' But he said Gulf countries such as Kuwait have nothing to fear from Iran.
''The leaders in most of the Gulf countries are not alien to their people as Saddam is,'' he said. '' We are not exporting our revolution to these countries. This is because by definition ideologies don't ask for visas. Other people will learn by our successes and our mistakes.''
This week Iran sent Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Sheikholeslam to the United Arab Emirates with a similar message of nonbelligerency against the conservative, Islamic nations of the Gulf.
This message is meant to protect the image of the Shiite Muslims of the Gulf, who are coming under increasing suspicion here, in Saudi Arabia, and in Bahrain. Almost all diplomats and observers agree, however, the local Shiites are not fomenting rebellion.
Iran, according to Mr. Ardakani, is also planning to show the Gulf countries -- and in particular Kuwait -- that it is to their benefit that Iraq is checked.
Mr. Ardakani says Iran is prepared to demand as part of a peace settlement that Iraq finally agree to demarcate its border with Kuwait. The disputed border was a source of tension between Kuwait and Iraq prior to the Iran-Iraq war.
Whether this Iranian ''peace offensive'' is genuine remains to be seen. Kuwaiti officials are somewhat skeptical.
''Yes, they have been giving assurances to us of their intention of doing us no harm,'' says a ranking Foreign Ministry official. ''But one still sees what their newspapers print and what Ayatollah Khomeini says about us.''The question for us,'' the Kuwaiti official says, ''is...'Who is running the country?' ''
Kuwaiti leaders say Iran is overstepping itself in demanding that Saddam Hussein be removed from power in Baghdad and in demanding that other Muslim countries follow Iran's revolutionary example.
Nevertheless, Kuwait is quite active in seeking to end the 20-month-old war. Diplomats here say Kuwait and other Gulf countries are trying to encourage a settlement by letting it be known they would be happy to contribute to reconstruction coffers after the war.
''Reparations are being categorically denied,'' the Foreign Ministry official says. ''But if the war ends, we won't rule out the possibility of aid.''