Hurdles to lasting Gulf peace. Boundary line and responsibility for war are among tough issues looming over UN talks
Iran and Iraq bring divergent and conflicting goals to the preliminary peace talks being held this week in New York, despite mutual acceptance of a United Nations cease-fire resolution. Iraq hopes to transform its current military advantage into a historic, comprehensive peace treaty with Iran. Gulf analysts say the Iraqis want to settle what they view as two main causes of the start of fighting eight years ago: border disputes, including the Shatt al Arab waterway, and Iranian support for antigovernment Kurdish rebels in Iraq.
Iran, for its part, has entered UN negotiations seeking to halt Iraq's military momentum, emerge from international isolation, and focus world attention on Iraqi use of chemical weapons, according to these analysts. The Iranians will also press to have Iraq denounced as the aggressor, and will work to gain war reparations from Iraq and the rich Arab Gulf states.
Diplomatic sources in the Gulf and other experts say it will take extreme diplomatic skill by UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar to bridge the differences. Some doubt that anything more than a temporary cease-fire will result.
At press time yesterday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz insisted that even a cease-fire won't take place until Iran agrees to direct talks with Iraq. Meanwhile, heavy fighting between the two countries reportedly continued yesterday.
``Whatever settlement you have is going to be an interim settlement,'' contends Heino Kopeitz of the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London. He notes that the level of mutual distrust is too great to be overcome in a short period of time.
``It is going to erupt again,'' he predicts of the Iran-Iraq war.
Though UN officials are expected by Gulf analysts to succeed in achieving a monitored cease-fire along the 730-mile Iran-Iraq war front, it remains unclear how the two countries' respective negotiating positions will be reconciled without jeopardizing either nation's commitment to the UN-backed peace process.
Among the difficult issues facing Iranian and Iraqi negotiators:
Responsibility. Iran will insist that Iraq be branded the aggressor, having launched the Iraqi invasion of Iran on Sept. 22, 1980. Iraq will argue that Iran provoked the war by shelling Iraqi border towns and urging Iraqi Shiites to overthrow the Iraq's Baathist government.
The international border. Resolution 598 calls for withdrawal to ``internationally recognized boundaries.'' But there is continued dispute about the location of the Iran-Iraq border. Iraq claims that two border areas on the central war front - Zain Al-Qaws and Sayf Sad - are Iraqi territory usurped by Iran in the 1970s.
Iraq is also expected to renew its claim of sovereignty over the entire Shatt al Arab waterway, which forms at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and represents Iraq's only access to the Gulf and open seas.
In 1975, in a concession to the Shah of Iran, Iraqi leaders agreed to relocate the extreme southern Iran-Iraq border from the east bank of the waterway to the deepwater line. Five days before the Iraqi invasion of Iran in September 1980, Iraq abrogated the 1975 accord.
Reparations. Iran has said it will ask for hundreds of billions of dollars in war compensation from Iraq to repair damage from eight years of Iraqi bombing and warfare. It is unclear whether Iran will try to link the issue of reparations and reconstruction to any conclusions reached by the impartial body empowered by the UN to investigate responsibility for the war.
Interference in internal affairs. Iraq will ask that Iran end its support for Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. Iraq will likewise be asked to end support for Kurdish rebels in Iran. There may also be an agreement by Iraq to disband the Mujahideen-e Khalq's National Liberation Army, which currently operates from military bases in central Iraq and enjoys Iraqi government support.
Prisoners of war. Iran maintains a numerical advantage over Iraq, holding an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 Iraqi prisoners of war. In recent weeks Iraq has launched operations deep inside Iran aimed at encircling Iranian forces and capturing large numbers of troops to improve Iraq's bargaining position in expected POW exchange talks. Last weekend some 8,600 Iranians were captured. Rough, unofficial estimates are that Iraq now holds 40,000 Iranian POWs.
[E.A. Wayne adds from Washington: Iraq is going to be ``prickly and tough,'' says a ranking US official, but ``there is no way'' it will miss this opportunity to end the war. He and others contend the internal and external pressures on Iraqi President Hussein are too great to resist.]