Gulf trip will put UN leader's skills to test. `Tanker' war cools, but getting Iran to accept full cease-fire will prove tough
| Manama, Bahrain
United Nations Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar has his work cut out for him as he prepares to visit Tehran and Baghdad in yet another attempt to negotiate an end to the Gulf war. Many diplomatic and political analysts in the region are not optimistic that Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar's trip to the Gulf this week will yield more than a temporary cease-fire in the region.
These analysts say that there is no indication of a substantive shift in Iran's reluctance to accept the UN Security Council's July 20 cease-fire demand.
They point to recent hard-line statements by Iranian leaders and reports over the weekend that Iran fired three missiles at Kuwait, marking a significant development in the war.
``I don't think P'erez de Cu'ellar is going to change anything,'' a Western diplomat says. ``I don't see any change of attitude from Iran.''
But other analysts maintain that if there were no hope for peace, the UN chief would have canceled his trip, which could begin as soon as tomorrow. ``A lot depends on his diplomatic skills,'' another diplomat says. ``I would not completely rule out that Iran is interested in peace.''
The comments came as Iran threatened retaliation against Kuwait for expelling five Iranian diplomats this weekend over the reported missile attacks. The diplomats were declared personae non gratae and given a week to leave.
Meanwhile, the Gulf waters enjoyed their second day of calm Monday after both Iran and Iraq called off their ``tanker war'' efforts in anticipation of P'erez de Cu'ellar's visit. Fighting continued on the ground.
Neither side wants to appear to be unreasonable at this critical juncture. On Saturday, Iraq halted its week-long barrage of bomb and missile attacks on Iran's side of the Gulf. In eight consecutive days of raids last week, Iraqi jets hit 15 tankers in Iranian waters.
Iran also also stopped its retaliatory raids in the Gulf. Its last hostile action was the reported Saturday attack on Kuwait.
Iran last week responded to the Iraqi blitz with eight hit-and-run attacks against cargo ships and tankers along the western, Arab side of the Gulf. The bazooka and machine-gun attacks were carried out by small groups of Revolutionary Guards in motor boats.
Iraq sparked the renewal of the ``tanker war'' last week when it broke a 45-day lull to punish Iran for its reluctance to accept the UN cease-fire call.
Iraq says it is willing to accept the UN resolution, which calls for a comprehensive cease-fire, an exchange of prisoners, and a withdrawal of troops to international borders.
Iran has neither accepted nor rejected the UN resolution. Tehran says any peace efforts must include a process of ``denouncing and indicting the aggressor'' (meaning Iraq) and has repeatedly said that it will continue to fight until the downfall of Iraq's President Saddam Hussein.
But in recent weeks Iranian diplomats have hinted that they might be willing to enter discussions about ending the war.
Analysts stress the removal of the Iraqi President from power is not an acceptable topic for discussion in peace talks. But they say some form of international investigation into the cause of the war will help satisfy Iran on this point.
A potentially more fruitful area of discussion may be the issue of a possible phased cease-fire, analysts say.
They note that Iran has pushed in the past for a partial cease-fire only in Gulf waters - which would protect Iran's oil exports from Iraqi attack while permitting Iran to continue land-based offensives.
For this reason Iraq has said any cease-fire must be comprehensive. In the meantime, Iraqi leaders maintain that they have a legitimate right to continue to strike at Iran's oil and economic lifeline in the Gulf because oil sales finance Iran's war effort.
Diplomatic observers say that depending on P'erez de Cu'ellar's Security Council mandate, he may be able to use a phased cease-fire as leverage to gain Iranian acceptance of a broader peace accord.
The assumption is that if Iran agrees, Iraq might be persuaded to endure a partial or phased cease-fire with guarantees that it would lead to a comprehensive one.
Pessimists note that even if P'erez de Cu'ellar returns to the UN without a definitive response from Iran, the effort can be cited by the United States as a sure sign of Iranian intransigence.
The US may then use the episode to help build Security Council support for an international arms embargo against Iran for its failure to accept the UN's cease-fire demand, analysts say.