At the United Nations this week, Iran has given new and positive signs of interest in negotiating an end to its seven-year-old conflict with Iraq. Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Muhammad Javed Larijani spoke for the first time - in private discussions with the UN Secretary-General and most members of the Security Council and in some public statements - of Iran's interest in consolidating and extending what he said was a de facto cease-fire in the Gulf.
The talks included discussion of the July 20 Security Council Resolution 598, which demands an immediate cease-fire and a negotiated end to all hostilities. Iran has previously balked at holding discussions on a cease-fire or on the basis of UN resolutions that they claim have been biased against Iran.
Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar and Larijani held what were called complicated talks on an Iranian requirement for guarantees that a negotiated settlement would mean the definitive end of the war.
The main guarantee Iran seeks, Larijani indicated in an interview, relates to the border between Iran and Iraq. In 1980, he charged, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein tore up a 1975 agreement between the two nations specifying the disputed boundary. Iraq has since said it is willing to return to the agreement, but Iran wants guarantees.
Another requirement may relate to a reduction or removal of foreign naval presence in the Gulf. Iran is also concerned about the composition and mandate of the commission of inquiry called for in the resolution to examine responsibility for starting the war.
Larijani left New York Tuesday night to report back to his government, with the understanding that Iran would respond again within a week. In consultations yesterday, the Security Council agreed to wait for Iran's reply before taking further action.
The question, UN diplomats and officials say, is whether the Iranians can agree to proceed along the path discussed in the sessions with the Secretary-General.
Larijani's presentations this week were received favorably by several Council members, including Italy, West Germany, Japan, China, and the Soviet Union.
Soviet Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Petrovsky stressed afterwards that ``Iran has started negotiations with the Secretary-General. They are showing signs ... of readiness to participate in the fulfillment of this resolution. And that should be worked on. This is a very important development in the Iranian position.''
Larijani is scheduled to meet with the Italian and West German foreign ministers in Rome and Bonn on his return to Tehran. Italy and West Germany, among others, are reportedly strongly urging that all possible avenues be explored with the Iranians.
Several Council members are resisting the argument that Iran is in a state of noncompliance because it has not clearly accepted the resolution. They are unlikely to go along with any early move to consider sanctions.
Iraq, however, is urging the Council to take measures against Iran without further delay. Iraq's UN ambassador said yesterday, ``It is obvious that Iraq cannot accept this procrastination and stalling and playing for time. Iraq fully reserves ... its right to conduct any kind of operations against Iran as long as Iran does not comply fully and clearly with the resolution of the Security Council.''