As Iraq and Iran engage in some of the fiercest fighting of their 41/2-year-old war, the United Nations has renewed efforts to end the conflict. Last Friday night the Security Council issued an appeal directed at Baghdad and at Tehran calling for ``an end of the hostilities and as a first step a moratorium on the attacks directed at civilian populations.''
Iran has agreed to a moratorium but will not make peace with the regime of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Iraq has so far rejected the idea of a limited cease-fire and will agree to nothing less than a complete end of the war. Iraq said Monday that it is willing to accept a moratorium, but only if it were a first step toward complete cessation of hostilities. In a message to the UN Saturday, Iraq had proposed an immediate halt to hostilities and a UN-monitored cease-fire.
``The Security Council has been largely impotent with regard to the Iraq-Iran conflict. When the war started, the council failed to condemn the aggressor -- Iraq -- and even the aggression itself. As a result Iran has felt that the council discredited itself and lacked moral authority to play a role in ending the conflict,'' a Western diplomat says.
Last year UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar was able to bypass this obstacle and get both countries to allow UN investigation teams to visit POW camps in both countries and to check on damages suffered by the civilian populations.
Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar was also instrumental in having both sides agree to a moratorium last June on attacks against civilian targets. This moratorium has now fallen by the wayside since dozens of Iraqi and Iranian cities have been bombed and hit by rockets for the last week.
[A powerful explosion rocked Baghdad Monday after Iran claimed it fired a missile into the Iraqi capital in retaliation for Iraqi missile attacks on Iranian cities, according to wire reports. In a military communiqu'e the Iraqis claimed to have defeated an Iranian offensive in the marshes of southeast Iraq.]
Iran's UN delegate, Said Rajaie Khorassani, says that Tehran ``still favors P'erez de Cu'ellar's personal role'' and praises his impartiality. But Iran will not listen to the Security Council.
Mr. Khorassani accuses Iraq of having used chemical weapons twice last week.
``By escalating the conflict Iraq seeks to call the world's attention to the war and to engineer pressure on Iran to put an end to it. This will not work,'' Khorassani says.
A West European diplomat close to Iraq says that ``Iraq is now convinced that moratoriums and local or partial cease-fires only prolong the war and profit Iran.''
Iran's UN representative publicly stated that one of Iran's conditions for ending the war is that ``the aggressor's regime be punished.'' The other three conditions are the return to internationally recognized borders, repatriation of Iraqi citizens of Iranian descent, and payment of war reparations.
Security Council members are divided. A French diplomat says that ``while the council may have been derelict at the beginning of the war for having looked the other way, and while Iraq may indeed have been the initial aggressor, now, five years later, it is Iran which stubbornly refuses to end the war and consequently there is no reason why the Security Council should not speak out.'' This view is echoed by Egyptian diplomats here.
Others, such as Australia and the Netherlands, feel that the UN must be evenhanded and treat Iran fairly in order to restore gradually its confidence in the UN and its willingness to participate in the council's debate. ``We do not want to make Iran feel as an outcast,'' an Asian ambassador says.
The United States and the Soviet Union are on the same side in this instance. But, says one observer, ``while they try to remain in the diplomatic background, they both clearly favor Iraq over Iran.''
The Security Council is expected to launch an appeal this week for an exchange of prisoners, starting with the young, the disabled, and the sick.
``If the Secretary-General manages to persuade both sides through quiet diplomacy to stop their present round of brutal attacks against civilians, as he did once before, it would be a major success for the UN,'' a member of the Security Council says.
Meanwhile, India, acting as chairman of the ``nonaligned movement,'' is sending envoys to Baghdad and Tehran in the next few days to see if any compromises between the two nations can be worked out.