Iran sent war victims to the United States for emergency medical treatment Tuesday, the first time it has done so. Iranian diplomats said US authorities had been ``very helpful.''
US diplomats say that Iran's request to treat the victims here was facilitated for humanitarian reasons. But the Iranian request, and the US agreement, are expected to have a number of important diplomatic repercussions.
The five patients are Iraqi civilians - victims, Iran says, of a chemical weapons attack by Iraq on its own people in Halabja, a city of 70,000.
The March 18 attack was seen both as a counterattack against the Revolutionary Guards who had captured the surrounding region the previous day and as punishment of the rebellious Kurdish population.
Most victims of the Iraqi attack appear to have been Iraqi civilians because the Iranian forces have gas masks and were out of the city at the time.
Iran has been anxious to prove its charge that Iraq is using chemical weapons. Wednesday the Iranian UN mission showed a 35-minute videotape of the Halabja attack to journalists. First the film showed Iranian forces entering and touring a city. Then, in scenes filmed from a distance, explosions spread huge white clouds of gas over sections of the city. Finally the film showed another tour of the city, with corpses of civilians everywhere.
The Iranians, who said they film all their military actions for analysis and as a matter of record, submitted the videotape to the UN as an official document.
Iranian officials have cited casualty figures of 5,000 killed and 7,000 wounded specifically by Iraqi chemical weapons. M'edecins sans Fronti`eres, an organization of doctors who assist victims of international conflicts or disasters, sent a team into Iran last Friday. So far, the team has confirmed at least 2,000 killed and 5,000 wounded, according to reports received in New York from Western embassies in Tehran.
A UN team arrived in Tehran on Monday, after persistent Iranian requests. But the Iranians are said to be unhappy because the team consists of a political officer and a medical doctor but no chemical weapons expert to identify the chemicals used in the attacks.
Nevertheless, Iran's chief justice, Mussavi Ardebili, wrote appreciatively to the UN Secretary-General. Mr. Ardebili is a hard-liner not previously known for his warm feelings for the international body.
``We sincerely thank you for having condemned the acts of the Iraqi regime and for having announced the dispatch of a specialist team of the UN to the Islamic republic of Iran to investigate this catastrophe...'' Ardebili wrote.
The letter publicly registered a new point of view for one said to be a leading Iranian skeptic about a diplomatic solution to the Iran-Iraq war. ``It is evident that, should the UN show its good will in confronting this crime, there will exist the possibility of seriously considering your excellency's suggested consultations. Otherwise, the party responsible for the failure of consultations will be Iraq.''
Next week, the UN Secretary-General is to hold another round of consultations with high-level emissaries from both Iran and Iraq, in an effort to implement his peace plan. The endorsement from Justice Ardebili increases the likelihood that in those consultations, Iran will clearly and publicly declare its acceptance of the UN's cease-fire resolution, according to informed diplomats at the UN.