Gulf diplomacy

It now is time for nearby nations to redouble efforts to end the spillover of war into the Persian Gulf, with its important oil traffic. And to bring about a cessation of hostilities between Iraq and Iran.

Three elements lend urgency to these tasks. One is the report that Iran may be about to launch massive new attacks against Iraq, an escalation that would increase the danger of a wider conflict. The second element is the continuation of attacks by both sides on ships in the Gulf. The third is the shooting down Tuesday by Saudi Arabian jets of a aircraft, initially believed to be Iranian, over Saudi airspace.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone says he will make ''further positive efforts'' to see that the war is ended. And the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations says his government, although not willing to end the war, will negotiate to prevent the Gulf situation from worsening.

Both statements are welcome. But no one should hold out false hopes for a quick end to the conflict. Whereas Iraq - the initial aggressor now under strong military pressure - is willing to settle for peace, Iran remains adamant on toppling Iraq's government.

Yet efforts should be made toward isolating the Gulf and ending overall hostilities. Japan is in a unique situation to try, inasmuch as it is the only developed nation that retains good relations both with Iran and Iraq. By contrast, the United States does not appear to have the opportunity to play an active leadership role in the area.

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