Despite four days of talks with United Nations Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar, Iran and Iraq remain far apart in their basic positions on how best to end the seven-year-old Gulf War. It appears, based on the public statements of Iranian and Iraqi leaders and the private comments of a UN official here, that much remains to be done to draw Iran and Iraq closer to a mutually acceptable peace plan.
Iran still insists that its forces will continue to fight to overthrow Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. And Iraq seems determined to continue its destructive air raids against Iranian industrial and oil targets - including Gulf tankers in Iranian waters - until Iran accepts the UN cease-fire resolution.
It is unclear at this point whether the Security Council will push now for an arms embargo or other sanctions against Iran for its refusal to abide by the UN peace demand contained in the July 20 Security Council Resolution No. 598.
Some analysts suggest that the Secretary-General's report on his detailed discussions with Iranian and Iraqi leaders may hold the seeds for more promising peace talks and diplomacy in the future.
Others are suspicious that Iran may be taking advantage of UN peace efforts to bolster its economy and boost its war effort against Iraq.
Although there was no breakthrough as a result of his diplomacy, Mr. P'erez de Cu'ellar's trip, which ended Tuesday, accomplished more than previous Gulf peace missions, according to a UN official who asked not to be named.
The Secretary-General detected in his contacts positive ``movement'' by Iranian leaders,'' according to the official. It was perhaps ``not great movement but there is at least some atmosphere which might start some [effort toward peace],'' the official said.
The Secretary-General's trip helped reduce Iranian distrust of the UN Security Council, the UN official said, in large part because of the Iranians' personal confidence in P'erez de Cu'ellar.
``Sometimes the personal relations help in trying to break down barriers,'' the official said.
Iranian leaders have frequently denounced the UN Security Council as unfair and have objected to what they view as a pro-Iraqi bias in the Council.
The Iranian perception may be changing.
``There seems to be certain movement,'' the UN official said. ``Maybe not enough [for peace], but at least you can talk about things which a year ago we were not able to discuss.''
In the past, he noted, simply uttering the word ``cease-fire'' was considered taboo in discussions with Iranian leaders. ``Now when you say it ... there is an argument. So at least you can mention taboo words.''
Throughout his four-day peace mission to the Gulf, P'erez de Cu'ellar declined to reveal specific details of his efforts to gather information and conduct discussions.
But he disclosed Tuesday that he had come to the region with ``an outline of a plan'' to end the Gulf war.
``I had a very specific task,'' the Secretary-General said during a brief press conference as he prepared to leave Iraq Tuesday afternoon.
``I didn't arrive empty-handed. I came with an outline of a plan of the implementation of the resolution.''
``Now it is for me to go to New York and report to the Security Council,'' he added.
The Secretary-General is scheduled to return to New York Wednesday after an overnight stop in Europe. Once in New York he will submit a written report to the UN Security Council on his discussions with Iranian and Iraqi leaders. He will also be available for consultation with Security Council members.
A key question P'erez de Cu'ellar will be expected to answer in New York is whether Iran has formally and unambiguously rejected the Security Council's peace effort.
Iranian officials maintain that they will not participate in UN-sponsored peace talks until Iraq is denounced as the aggressor in the Gulf war.
So far Iran has avoided an outright rejection of Resolution 598, saying that it included some positive points.
Iraq says that Iran has already rejected the peace resolution and that it should be condemned by the world community and subjected to UN sanctions.
``The Iranian position has been since the 20th of July a position of procrastination,'' says Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz.
``They are making a lot of maneuvers to gain time in order to avoid as long as possible'' the threat of UN-sponsored sanctions, Mr. Aziz says.