UNITED NATIONS, N.Y.
IRAN's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati has pledged Iran's commitment to comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions ordering an economic embargo against Iraq. The Iranian minister, in New York to address the UN General Assembly's opening session on Monday, gave a detailed denial of reports that his country had been tempted to help Iraq evade the punitive impact of the UN sanctions.
Iran has not agreed to take shipments of Iraqi oil, Mr. Velayati said in an interview, even as compensation for damages incurred in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. ``This is against the UN embargo, and we want to observe those regulations.''
He added, ``We are against any food shipments to Iraq through our border,'' pointing out that 29 people had been arrested this week for trying to smuggle foodstuffs to villages in the northern Kurdish area of Iraq.
Velayati expressed concern that if the sanctions result in starvation inside Iraq, there could be a new influx of refugees from Iraq. Iran is host to 2.5 million refugees, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq - the highest number in the world, he said.
The Iranian foreign minister confirmed that Iraqi forces had allowed about 60,000 Iranians to travel by land from Kuwait to Iran, as well as some Pakistanis and a few Western Europeans.
Following the recent offer from Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, Velayati said, Iraqi forces had withdrawn ``to the border which is mentioned in the 1975 Algiers treaty.... In this connection, we don't have any problem. The withdrawal has already been finished, it has been completed.''
The exchange of prisoners of war is about 80 percent complete, but has stopped, he said, because of ``technical problems, maybe the question of registration.'' But he was continuing his contacts with UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar for a comprehensive settlement with Iraq, he said.
The UN peace plan calls for the establishment of a regional security system. Velayati repeated Iran's position that the security of the Gulf is the responsibility of the littoral states and said he believed a security arrangement could be worked out between Iran, the Arab states bordering the Gulf, ``and even Pakistan.''
Sources at the UN report that there are active discussions between Pakistan, Iran, and the six Arab countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia) about a possible regional security structure. Pakistan would also like to include Turkey because of its military strength, the sources say.
Despite the call of Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for a jihad (holy war) against American forces in the region, Velayati repeatedly criticized only the ``prolongation'' of the troops' presence.
The minister dismissed talk about a solution to the crisis that would rule out the return of Kuwait's emir. ``We haven't received any information that the people of Kuwait want to change their own government.'' Nor, he said, would Iran approve a peace proposal that would cede disputed Kuwaiti territory to Iraq.
Iran received the foreign minister of Kuwait a few weeks ago, after the Iraqi invasion, despite the severe strain in relations that developed as a result of Kuwait's support for Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. ``It means that now we have accepted the foreign minister of Kuwait as the foreign minister of a neighboring country with which we have friendly relations,'' Velayati said.
Velayati acknowledged recent US proposals to improve relations, but complained that US officials haven't ``changed their main policy toward Iran,'' and continue to hold Iranian assets.
A considerable amount of Iranian funds and shipments of advanced military equipment were frozen a decade ago when US diplomats were taken hostage in Tehran. Since then, a US-Iran tribunal has plodded through a morass of claims and counter-claims, and recent reports suggested a final settlement has been reached in principle. But ``still we haven't received any positive information about [that],'' Velayati said.