From opposing capitals, contrasting views of the same conflict; Iran rejects mediation, welcomes mediators
Although Iranian leaders are declaring vigorously that they will accept no mediation in the war with Iraq, President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr has talked over the past few days with two would-be mediators.
He went personally to Tehran's Mehrabad airport to welcome his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, Sept. 27. Earlier Mr. Bani-Sadr met with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at the combined military headquarters in Tehran where the Iranian President now spends much of his time as the supreme commander of the Iranian armed forces. Mr. Arafat was also present when Presidents Bani-Sadr and Zia held discussions the next day.
Meanwhile, Iranian officials publicly deny any possibility of peace talks.
"This is a war between Islam and blasphemy," said Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai, following a meeting of Iranian leaders with Ayatollah Khomeini Sept. 27. There was no possibility of discussing peace with blasphemers, he added, "unless [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein expresses regret for his actions. There is a place for regrets in Islam."
Iran's Defense Minister and Air Force chief, Col. Javad Fakouri, also spoke in terms of not accepting an end to the war until the Iraqi regime was "completely destroyed."
Even as his interview was being broadcast on the state television, Iranians in the capital had to put out their lights -- and televisions -- as air raid warnings sounded. Iranians ducked for cover as flak and anti-aircraft fire exploded in the night air.
During the past week, Iranians have been adapting themselves steadily, if slowly, to their first experience of modern warfare in about 40 years. Air raid shelters, as such, do not exist.But those who have underground cellars appear to coexist remarkably coolly next to their central heating fuel tanks.
If the blackouts are tiresome, most Iranians spend their time close to their radios, switching between their own state radio and foreign broadcasts, including those from Baghdad, Iraq. The experience can be confusing, since the listeners become caught in a psychological war filling the airwaves.
The Iranian government is aware that its people are listening to both radios. When Baghdad, for example, said early Sept. 26 that Ayatollah Khomeini had been killed in the bombing raid on Tehran the previous night, the state radio made a quick denial -- and a message from the Ayatollah, in his own voice, was broadcast shortly afterward.
President Bani-Sadr has gone out of his way personally to disprove a number of claims broadcast by Baghdad. One of them was that Khorramshahr and Ahvaz, important towns in Khuzestan Province, had fallen to the Iraqi forces. Immediately, Mr. Bani-Sadr flew south to both places. The Iraqis withdrew their claims, but said that Khorramshahr was surrounded by their forces. Iran's joint staff Sept. 28 continued to deny that Khorramshahr, Ahvaz, and Dezful were being overrun by Iraqi forces. Other visitors to the south, however, confirmed that the Abadan refinery was burning.
Iranian authorities offered the best confirmation of this latter report when they imposed a one-week ban on the use of all private automobiles in Iran from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. This meant that private vehicles were not being used at all, because night driving is impossible during blackouts. The week-long ban on private vehicles followed an two-day ban on gasoline. But even after private cars were taken off the road, the queues by taxis at filling stations were more than a mile long.
Meanwhile, a glimmer of hope has appeared that Tehran may start allowing foreign correspondents into the country. Mr. Bani-Sadr has pointed out that Baghdad is winning a public relations victory by allowing some 300 foreign correspondents into Iraq.