Diplomats here predict that the UN Security Council will meet in closed consultations within the next week to debate the clearly stalled cease-fire effort on the Iran-Iraq war. The ambiguity of Iran's official response to the July 20 cease-fire resolution is likely to complicate the Council's discussions. Iran's seven-page response, presented Tuesday, included not a single reference to a cease-fire. Under Security Council Resolution 598, if either party fails to comply with the cease-fire, Council members are to act on some form of sanctions.
Said Rajaie Khorassani, Iran's ambassador to the UN, said the response was neither a rejection nor an acceptance of the cease-fire, but emphasized areas in which Iran wished to cooperate with Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar.
``We still believe that the office of the Secretary-General is a very useful channel. If the Security Council wishes - or if the Iraqis wish - they can make significant use of the good offices of the Secretary-General.''
The 15-member Security Council must now evaluate the responses of both Iraq and Iran. Had Iran's response not come in, the five permanent members would have begun immediate consultations on a follow-up resolution containing sanctions.
US Ambassador to the UN, Gen. Vernon Walters, who traveled to Moscow, Peking, and Tokyo on the eve of the adoption of Resolution 598, says that those visits included discussions on the possibility of requiring a second resolution.
``I believe they understood how dangerous it would be to let someone get away with defying the mandatory authority of the Security Council.''
General Walters says that he does not share in the skepticism about the Council's willingness to impose sanctions against Iran. ``I don't think many nations will be anxious to be the odd man out.''
Though consultations among the five permanent members have not yet been very specific, Walters indicated last week that options other than an arms embargo were being considered.
Rumors that a boycott against Iranian oil exports is an option have been strengthened by recent calls - from House Armed Services Committee Chairman Les Aspin (D) of Wisconsin and former director of Central Intelligence, Adm. Stansfield Turner, among others - for reciprocal mining of Iran's coastal waters.
Within the next two days, the five permanent Council members are expected to meet on the Iranian response, and current Council president - West Germany's ambassador to the UN - will hold sessions with each Council member.
The Council is likely to be split on what to do next. Those Council members least likely to support sanctions against Iran will want to fully explore all implications of Iran's response before they agree that it is in fact a rejection of the cease-fire resolution.
The Soviet Union, caught between the conflicting interests of Iraq and Iran in interpreting the resolution, may not play an active role at this stage of Council evaluations, according to some nonpermanent members of the Council.
Some at the UN charge that this is exactly what Iran intended: to produce splits in the Council, and to play the time factor for all it is worth. Others, however, view the response as one more reflection of deep divisions within the Iranian leadership.