UN holds back from endorsing Arab effort to end Iranian attacks on tankers

Diplomatic efforts in the United Nations Security Council aimed at preventing Iran from attacking more oil tankers in the Persian Gulf appear to have bogged down.

Seven days of intensive negotiations have produced no agreement, according to reliable sources.

Several nonaligned Council members have rejected as one-sided various drafts for a resolution proposed by six Gulf nations - Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Bahrain. The drafts have condemned Iran's recent strikes against tankers without referring also to Iraq's attacks. Behind-the-scenes maneuvers are likely to continue for at least another week, several involved UN diplomats say.

Western powers have avoided taking sides. American, British, French, and Dutch diplomats expect the Council to reaffirm ''the right of free navigation and commerce in international waters.''

''A resolution which would do no more than ask all the parties to the war in the Gulf to respect the freedom of navigation would pose no problem to Iran,'' a West European observer says. ''But it would hardly meet the expectations of the Arab Gulf countries who launched this diplomatic effort and who hoped that the UN would at least slap Iran's wrists.''

A moderate Council member says: ''Juridically, Iraq may have a slightly stronger case than Iran since Iraq strikes only at tankers entering an 'exclusive maritime zone' pertaining to the area where the war is being waged, while Iran has attacked ships sailing in the territorial waters of neutral countries.

''But politically it is difficult to separate specific Iranian war action from the larger context of the war itself - a war which was started by Iraq. The UN cannot turn a blind eye to Iraq's deeds and condemn Iran's actions alone.''

While most countries do not want Iraq to be defeated by Iran, many also believe that ''the door to Tehran should be kept open'' and that ''condemning Iran alone at the Security Council would only exacerbate Iranian anger and raise new obstacles to a peaceful resolution of the conflict,'' says an Asian official with Cabinet rank.

''Whether in the end a resolution will be adopted at all is open to question, '' a Mideast expert says. ''And if one is adopted, it may be so pious and vague that it would not be worth the effort launched here. . . .''

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