IRANIAN officials say Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's acceptance of a return to the 1975 Algiers treaty defining the border between Iran and Iraq is ``the logical result of long and discreet negotiations'' between the two countries. The timing of Saddam's announcement, however, is a direct consequence of the present crisis in the Gulf, those officials add.
``The war is definitely over. For tens of thousands of prisoners of war and their families, this is the end of the nightmare,'' says a Tehran resident. In government buildings, jubilant officials Wednesday were congratulating one another.
``Our policy of firmness since the cease-fire in August 1988 has eventually paid off,'' says a source close to President Hashemi Rafsanjani. ``We're delighted. We will regain sovereignty over 2,600 square kilometers [roughly 1,000 square miles] of our territory still occupied by Iraqi troops, and over half the Shatt al Arab waterway.''
According to the 1975 agreement, the border between Iran and Iraq runs down the middle of the waterway. Since the beginning of the Iran-Iraq war in 1980, Saddam has claimed sovereignty over the entire river and declared the 1975 treaty invalid.
Several deputies of the Iranian parliament were told in advance of Iraqi's move, which, Iranian officials assert, is simply the implementation of a peace proposal contained in a confidential letter sent on April 29 by the Iraqi leader to Mr. Rafsanjani.
In his letter, Saddam stated that Iraq was ready to resume talks on the basis of the 1975 agreement. On July 3, during a lengthy face-to-face conversation in Geneva, the two nations' foreign ministers, Ali Akbar Velayati and Tareq Aziz, discussed the possibility of a summit meeting to finalize the agreement.
Some Western sources in Tehran contend that during the Geneva meeting, Mr. Aziz confirmed that Iraq was ready to drop its claim over the entire Shatt al Arab, but asked in return that Iran turn a blind eye to Iraq's planned invasion of Kuwait.
Iranian diplomats vehemently deny this account of the meeting. An Iranian ambassador interviewed in Europe says, ``Aziz and Velayati agreed that their two countries badly needed money to rebuild their economies, and came to the conclusion that by overproducing oil and slashing oil prices, Kuwait had become an obstacle to the reconstruction of postwar Iran and Iraq. The two ministers agreed on a common strategy to lean on Kuwait at the upcoming OPEC [Organization of Petrolem Exporting Countries] meeting in order to try to force the emirate to cut its oil output,'' the ambassador says. ``But Velayati never imagined that Saddam Hussein would go as far as invading Kuwait.''
Iranian officials and Western observers in Tehran believe that the timing of Saddam's decision to make his concession public was dictated by military reasons.
``Iraq is virtually surrounded by enemies,'' explains an aide to an Iranian deputy. ``A peace agreement with Iran will allow Saddam Hussein to move the troops stationed on the southern section of the Iran-Iraq front to Kuwait and the Iraq-Saudi border. The Iraqi troops presently on the northern sector of the Iran-Iraq front will be redeployed along the Iraq-Turkey and the Iraq-Syria borders.''
``Iraq is buying Iran's military neutrality in the present crisis at a very high price,'' a European diplomat says. ``President Hussein was afraid that the Iranians might seize the opportunity of a showdown in the Gulf to launch an offensive against Iraq and regain control over territories occupied by the Iraqi Army, and even enter Iraq.''
An Iranian diplomat in Europe says Iran will try to keep its Army away from any possible flare-up in the Gulf. But this diplomat insists that Iraq's concessions won't alter Iran's political stance towards the present crisis.
Receiving his Venezuelan counterpart, Reinaldo Figueredo Planchard, on Monday, Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Velayati repeated that Iran rejects Iraq's occupation of Kuwait, wants the emir reinstalled, and supports the inalienability of the internationally recognized border between Kuwait and Iraq. Iran condemns, however, the intervention of foreign troops in the Gulf area, he said.
Minister of Oil Gholamreza Aghazadeh-Khoi said Monday that Iran presently opposes any increase of its oil exports to make up for the loss of Iraqi and Kuwaiti oil, and insisted Iran is not exceeding its OPEC quota of 3 million barrels a day.
An official at the National Iranian Oil Company in Tehran takes a softer position. ``If a decision to increase the oil production is taken by an OPEC meeting we will enforce it,'' he says.