When United States Secretary of State George Shultz arrives in Moscow on Thursday, the Gulf situation will top his list of regional issues for discussion. US frustration with Moscow's Gulf stance is growing. The US has been trying to work with the Soviets on a United Nations solution to the Iran-Iraq war. However, some officials say that unless the Soviets change their approach, another strategy may have to be adopted regarding UN peace efforts.
Moscow appears to be reneging on an understanding reached when Shultz met with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze in New York Sept. 24, say senior US officials who follow the Iran-Iraq war. At that time, they say, the US told the Soviets it would go along with a second effort by United Nations Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar to get Iran and Iraq to agree to a cease-fire under UN resolution 598.
The secretary-general began that effort last week by providing Iran and Iraq with a revised outline of the UN peace plan. Iraq had accepted the terms of the first plan, but Iran did not.
However, the US believes it had Soviet agreement to participate in drafting an enforcement resolution, for use in case Iran persisted in its refusal to accept a cease-fire plan, American officials say. This resolution would impose sanctions, probably an arms embargo, on the recalcitrant party. Soviet diplomats, US officials say, have not kept their part of the bargain.
US diplomats are also angry that Moscow continues to blame the US naval presence in the Gulf, not the war, for tensions there. Last week, for example, the Soviet foreign ministry spokesman reiterated that line, and a leading Soviet specialist said the US and Western naval presence was the real danger.
Finally, one official says the Soviets ``seem more interested in short-term tactical maneuvering with Iran than in long-term efforts at the UN'' to stop the war.
The official was referring in part to talks between Moscow and Tehran over a possible oil pipeline between the two countries and a new rail link. Iran's oil minister traveled to Moscow last week and, according to press reports, said he would probably conclude a natural gas sales agreement and discuss the two other projects. The Soviet airline Aeroflot reportedly resumed flights to Tehran last week after a two-year break and Moscow recently named a new ambassador to Tehran.
The US has gone out of its way, US diplomats explain, to preserve the unity of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the US, Britain, France, China, and the USSR) in the Gulf effort. US officials were encouraged by Moscow's cooperative stance when the UN passed Resolution 598 in July. Washington believes a unified peace-seeking effort would be most effective, they say, and set a precedent for future cooperation.
However, if Moscow continues to stall, and if - as Washington fears - Iran continues to refuse a UN cease-fire, these officials say Washington may decide to abandon getting the five permanent members to agree. Instead, it may seek the support of Britain and France for rallying a majority on the 15-member council. This could prove difficult without the show of unity among the five.
But specialists were never united on whether Moscow would play a constructive role. Many believe the Soviets are too tempted by an opening to their Iranian neighbor and by the possibility of gaining influence by mediating between Iraq and Iran. Skeptics also point out that limiting Soviet presence in the Gulf remains a central US goal. Moscow, of course, does not agree. The problem, another Gulf expert adds, is that a solution to the war is much less likely unless both superpowers work together.