De Cu'ellar's mission

UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar has learned firsthand the difficulty of bringing the Iran-Iraq war to an end. After his visit this week to both nations, his next step is to draft a framework for accommodation to which both sides could agree. It is an extraordinary challenge. As Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar noted upon concluding his trip, the gap between the two nations appears ``as wide as ever.'' It is not clear when or how the stalemate will break.

The fact that P'erez de Cu'ellar went to Tehran at all counts for something, despite the apparent disappointment. Previously he had said he would visit Iran only if that nation's government were willing to discuss an overall settlement to the war; it had been saying publicly it would only discuss a more limited cease-fire.

Consequently speculation now exists that Iran may have privately indicated to the Secretary-General a greater willingness to settle the draining conflict than its public statements would indicate. No corroboration of such speculation exists, however.

Public opinion in Iran is not monolithically in favor of the war; even some government officials have turned to opposition in recent months.

For peace to come, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini would have to join these officials in concluding that it is more dangerous for his nation to continue the war, and risk potentially serious internal problems, than to agree to end it. No one, however, claims any insight into the Ayatollah's thinking.

For its part Iraq would also have to compromise before a settlement could be reached. It would have to stop pressing claims to additional territory on its border with Iran and to end insistence that it alone should have sovereignty over the Shatt al Arab waterway, rather than continue joint sovereignty with Iran. So many territorial claims are made in the region that it is hard to know which ones to begin with.

These steps by Iran and Iraq would constitute the minimum concessions necessary to create a climate for peace. If P'erez de Cu'ellar could persuade the two sides to adopt such positions, then the peace plan he is ultimately expected to put forth would have a prospect of acceptance.

Pending a settlement, the West and the Soviet Union should continue trying to maintain a military balance between Iran and Iraq: which is what the current standoff represents.

The 41/2-year war was long ago shown to be senseless. Not Iran or Iraq, nor the rest of the world, has anything to gain from a continuance. The obvious cannot forever go ignored. ----30{et

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