Signs are that Iran may have decided to postpone, if only temporarily, a long-announced spate of land offensives against Iraq. Diplomatic pressures from the Soviet Union and Syria (Iran's main Arab ally) are the main reason for this delay, according to information from Arab and Western diplomats as well as Iranian sources.
An Iranian journalist contacted in Tehran over the weekend confirmed that the Soviet ambassador in Tehran, Vladimir Gudev, recently told officials that Moscow may eventually support an international arms embargo against Iran if it were to initiate a new round of land fighting.
``Moscow is returning to its classic position of support to Iraq,'' says a senior European diplomat who regularly travels to the Gulf. He goes on to explain: ``The Soviets have always sided with Iraq in the war and they don't intend to drop President Hussein ... [but] ... when the US reinforced its military presence in the Gulf waters, they perceived it as a threat to their interests. They thus started tilting to Iran.''
The recent stronger stand against Iran, the envoy says, comes as a result of the Reagan administration's apparent willingness ``to discuss the Soviet proposal that a UN [multinational] naval force be sent to the Gulf to restore freedom of navigation in international waters.''
So far, Moscow has urged that Iran be given more time to respond to last July's Security Council resolution calling for a cease-fire before any sanctions are imposed.
Meanwhile Syria, Western diplomats in Damascus say, is exhorting the Iranian leadership not to launch any new thrust. Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara visited Tehran twice last month, reportedly to tell Iranian leaders it would be difficult for Syria to continue to support the Islamic Republic if its fighters were to occupy new pieces of Iraq.
``We don't like the regime of President Saddam Hussein, and we believe he is responsible for the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war,'' says a Syrian diplomat in Paris. ``But we can't tolerate the occupation of any piece of Arab land by Iran, which is not an Arab country. We also do have the feeling that any new escalation in the land fighting will trigger a wider confrontation between Iran on one side and Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia on the other side.''
An Iranian official close to Prime Minister Hossein Mussavi denied that his country has temporarily dropped its plans for new land drives against Iraq. In a carefully worded sentence, he said: ``We will attack when we think it is necessary and when our forces are ready.''
According to a Western observer in Tehran, ``that means that their offensive is neither for tomorrow nor the day after tomorrow.''
Iranian diplomats in Europe also indicate some optimism about a new round of diplomatic negotiations that appears to be in the offing.
Says one: ``The Soviets have proposed that UN Secretary-General Javier P'eres de Cu'ellar once again try a mediation between us and the Iraqis. We've accepted the offer, but more important to us is the prospect of a renewed dialogue with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries.''
In an Iranian TV interview last Thursday, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati Iran was ready to hold discussions with GCC representatives, provided the agenda of the talks was determined before the meeting. A recent news report said that at last week's annual GCC meeting, the President of the United Arab Emirates was asked to explore opening a dialogue with Tehran.
Should such a meeting take place, Iranian officials in Tehran say, they will again ask Gulf Arabs to stop bankrolling Iraq's war effort. In return, these sources say, Iran will promise to stop attacks on Kuwaiti oil installations and ships going to ports on the southern shore of the Gulf. Western diplomats in Tehran say this is the first time Iran hasn't mentioned a halt to Iraqi air raids against ships going to Iranian ports as a precondition to halting its own attacks on international shipping.
Mr. van England writes on Iran from his base in Brussels.