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UN chief: fed up with Iran? He may drop peace efforts over Iran's foot-dragging

UN Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar is considering throwing in the towel on his efforts to negotiate a UN-ordered cease-fire between Iran and Iraq. Well-placed UN sources say that, if by early next week Iran does not schedule a visit by high-level emissaries to the UN, the Secretary-General will notify the Security Council that he can do no more.

And then? ``Let the chips fall where they may,'' says one UN aide.

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``The Iranians have miscalculated,'' says one Security Council member. ``They have miscalculated with us, with the nonaligned [nations], with everybody. The impression they give here is disastrous.''

The UN chief has just taken the first step toward ending his efforts by reporting to the Security Council president that, after three increasingly insistent requests, Iran still had not set a date to start intensive talks here. In a letter given to Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar Wednesday, President Ali Khamenei conveyed Iran's agreement, in principle, to dispatch someone to New York to continue cooperation. But Mr. Khamenei did not indicate who would come or when.

``If this is all the Iranians can deliver, it's over,'' a diplomat says. The next move is up to the Secretary-General, who will reflect ``for a couple of days'' only, UN officials say.

Iraq had previously announced that Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz would be available from tomorrow for the expected UN talks. But after the Iranian President's message, Iraq said it would leave it to the UN chief to set the date.

Iranian diplomats seemed eager to give the impression that any emissaries' arrival would be unrelated to the presence of the Iraqi minister. ``We did not agree to proximity talks,'' said one Iranian, referring to a format where a UN intermediary would conduct indirect negotiations.

Diplomats on the council call this posture ``silly.'' They say if the Iranians are late, or hedging, or imposing unsatisfactory conditions, ``no one will be able to claim Iranian participation in good faith... .''

In the UN view, both combatants have retreated from earlier positions in response to the Secretary-General's plan for carrying out the Security Council's cease-fire order. Under its plan, the council would consider enforcement measures, including sanctions, if either side refused to comply with the resolution.

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