Iraq gives no ground on key issues in talks set to begin Monday

Iraq will resume peace talks with Iran in Geneva on Monday, but opposes a United Nations proposal to break the deadlock that has prevailed since negotiations began Aug. 25. ``There is no agreement, or near-agreement, on anything,'' Ismet Kittani, Iraq's ambassador to the UN, told the Monitor Wednesday night.

Under the UN proposal, which is be presented in Geneva, Iran would undertake not to search ships, so long as Iraq acknowledges that the searches are Iran's right under international law.

Iraq say Iran hasn't searched Iraqi ships since the cease-fire began Aug. 20. Ambassador Kittani said Iraq wants this de facto freedom of navigation made a de jure part of the cease-fire, and formally registered in annexes to the cease-fire accords.

The UN Secretary-General is also proposing that discussion of clearing of the Shatt al Arab should begin under Paragraph 4 of Resolution 598 - that is, following cease-fire, withdrawal, and exchange of prisoners of war.

Kittani disagrees. ``We can't have withdrawal and repatriation of prisoners of war - and then go back and consolidate the cease-fire,'' he declared.

Iraq believes that the UN peace plan calls on the two sides to negotiate a new treaty over possession of the Shatt al Arab. During the dredging operation, Kittani said, the UN should have authority over the waterway.

Dredging might take up to two years, he said, and cost up to $1.5 billion. As Iran's UN ambassador did last week, Kittani suggested that coming up with the money would not be a problem. (Each of them asserted that his country could pay for it alone, if necessary - but that is one way they assert their respective claims to sovereignty).

If Iran does not agree to renegotiate, Kittani said, then Iraq will resort to an alternate canal which it has dug in Khor Abdullah, entirely within Iraq. Deepening and enlarging this canal would be expensive - and the necessary diversion of water from the Shatt al Arab to the new canal would so reduce water levels that access to both the Iraqi port of Basra and Iran's Khorramshahr and Abadan in the Shatt al Arab would be impeded. But he declared that, if forced, Iraq would pursue this alternative.

``They want us to acknowledge the 1975 treaty, but they will never have that. If they insist, the Shatt al Arab will always remained closed,'' Kittani vowed.

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