Mediators who have been trekking to Tehran and Baghdad in recent days to try to end the Iran-Iraq war see no prospect of a quick peace, but believe a solution is not impossible.
Pakistani Foreign Minister Agha Shahi, who visited Tehran in early February to sound out the Iranian leaders on a possible trip there by eight Islamic heads of state and government, found the Iranians paying attention to what he had to say. They said they would welcome the eight Islamic leaders, who are now scheduled to arrive in Tehran Feb. 28 as representatives of the Islamic conference.
The Iranians have also set up a six-man committee of top mullahs to examine all peace proposals. But they have remained firm on one point: There will be no formal cease-fire so long as Iraqi troops are on Iranian soil.
As Iranian President Abolhassan Bani- Sadr told a huge public rally Feb. 11, Iran did not wish to set a precedent for aggressors by which they could start a war, enter another country's territory, accept a ceasefire offered by the United Nations or anyone else, and then settle down to consolidate their gains while the UN bickered on endlessly on a negotiated peace.
For the Iraqis, this presents the dilemma that if they tried to pull back without a cease-fire being declared, they could suffer heavy losses.
But Iranian Prime Minister Muhammad Ali Rajai insists that this is not so. "We can give the assurance that while the Iraqi troops are withdrawing, we will not fire on them."
Olof Palme, the former Swedish prime minister, has been shuttling between Tehran and Baghdad on four separate occasions as a representative of UN Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim. He told newsmen in Tehran recently this did seem to suggest the Iranians were proposing a temporary ceasefire to allow the Iraqis to pull back, though there would be no formal announcement of this.
The Iranian prime minister, Mr. Palme said, "was rather referring to a statement in the Koran which says that if your enemy turns his back to you and walks away, you are not to permitted to shoot at him. This would naturally mean the Iranian would feel an obligation not to do any shooting in case of a withdrawal by the Iraqis."
It would be a temporary cease-fire "on the basis of the sayings of the Koran."
Anyway, Palme said, the ends results of the mediation efforts "must be the withdrawal of the Iraqi troops, and that pre- supposes an agreement of some kind."
Overall, "Starting from how much we can agree and then moving to those areas where there is still disagreement, I find that generally it has been a constructive and hopeful discussion." But "because of the historical differences or because of the emotions created by the war . . . it is difficult to mobilize the political will that is needed to overcome the differences" that still exist.
Among the "historical differences," apparently, are points in the 1975 Algiers accord signed by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the late Shah.
The Iraqis are claiming some 320 square miles of territory near Qasr-e Shirin that they say had not been returned before the war started on Sept. 22, 1980. As Mr. Palme found out, the Iranians are ready to abide by anything that "is in the 1975 agreement."
But also under the 1975 accord the Iraqis were supposed to give up all claims to sovereignty of the Shatt al Arab waterway. They appear to be having second thoughts on this.