A carrot-and-stick resolution aimed at stopping the 6-year Iran-Iraq war is being hammered out behind closed doors by the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Years of intensive individual, national, and multinational efforts have brought the belligerents no closer to the negotiating table than they were in September 1980, when Iraq first launched an attack on Iran.
But Iraq's lethal missile attack on the frigate USS Stark last month injected a new sense of urgency into the frustrated and desultory Security Council deliberations. And President Reagan's stated determination to provide a military shield for Persian Gulf shipping - a move most UN diplomats consider confrontational - has further spurred action.
To speed the peace-seeking process, the big five of the 15-member Council - the United States, Soviet Union, Britain, China, and France - have been trying to work things out in unofficial sessions. They are apparently aiming for a single resolution incorporating two approaches, one conciliatory and the other punitive:
A peace-pipe offering by Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar intended to wheedle Iran into ending its boycott of the Council. (Tehran has refused to participate in UN proceedings or abide by UN resolutions because it considers both to be biased. The UN has never branded Iraq as the aggressor for its initial attack on Iran.)
A watered-down version of a tough US resolution aimed at clamping an international arms embargo on Iran. (The US resolution would have required all countries to respond automatically if either Iran or Iraq refused to abide by a UN resolution. It failed to gain Council support because most felt it would simply stiffen Iran's position.)
The Secretary-General's blueprint, first presented to the belligerents in 1985, calls for:
An immediate cease-fire.
A halt to attacks on civilians.
An end to the use of chemical weapons.
Freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.
Freedom from attack for ports, harbors, berths, and other shipping facilities.
Freedom of civil aviation.
An exchange of war prisoners.
Withdrawal to international boundaries.
A program of reconstruction for both countries (with an implicit suggestion of reparations).
An even-handed arms embargo against both Iran and Iraq.
An ad hoc committee to consider the causes of the war.
The last point, aimed at identifying the aggressor, is tailored to bring Iran back into the Security Council's search for a peaceful end to the war.
The Council has adopted 10 resolutions and nearly a dozen statements on the Iran-Iraq war. Iran has considered all of them biased in favor of Iraq.
Recently, Iran's UN Ambassador Said Rajaie Khorassani assailed the Council's response to a UN task force report that unequivocally charged Iraq with the ``repeated use of chemical weapons against Iranian forces.'' The report included no similar finding against Iran. Yet in a sense-of-the-Council statement, President Li Luye of China ``strongly condemned the repeated use of chemical weapons'' without naming Iraq.
Some observers suggest Iran's reaction has some justification. They also point out, and diplomats agree, there is little hope of progress toward a settlement without Iran's participation.
Attempts to negotiate a compromise resolution are further complicated by strategic and political interests linking each of the big five with one or the other of the warring nations. France and the Soviet Union are heavy suppliers of arms to Iraq. China is Iran's main weapons supplier. Britain asserts that it supplies arms to neither side, but it tilts politically toward Iraq.
In this tangled situation, there is little diplomatic optimism that substantive movement toward peace is likely in the near future.