Iran, seeking to rekindle stalled peace talks with Iraq, has agreed to clear the disputed Shatt al Arab waterway of sunken ships and mines but insists it will never recognize Baghdad's claim to sovereignty over the strategic channel.
A dispute over which nation controls the waterway and who bears responsibility for the cleanup has posed a major obstacle in talks aimed at achieving a permanent settlement in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war. The two countries agreed to a cease-fire Aug. 20.Iranian military commander Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, meanwhile, told a gathering of elite Revolutionary Guard commanders Monday in a southwestern border town that it seemed unlikely Iraq would resume the Persian Gulf War. It was the first time Rafsan-jani has played down the possibility of renewed Iraqi attacks.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati told a news conference Monday in Tehran that his country dropped its objection to an Iraqi demand to clear the Shatt al Arab, which runs along the border between the Persian Gulf adversaries.
The strategic shipping channel currently is clogged with mines and the wreckage of ships sunk during the war.
Velayati was quoted by Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency as saying his country made the concession to remove an issue that has deadlocked the U.N.-mediated negotiations between Iran and Iraq on a comprehensive settlement to their 8-year-old war, and not to signify acceptance of Iraq's claim of sovereignty over the waterway.
The talks began in Geneva in late August, five days after the two sides began observing a cease-fire monitored by a U.N. observer force, but were suspended in a dispute over the Shatt al Arab.
Velayati said Iran's concession was based on the recognition of the spirit of the 1975 Algiers border treaty, which defines the Iran-Iraq border as running down the middle of the waterway.
Iraq rejects the treaty, saying it was forced upon it by the shah of Iran, and claims sovereignty over the entire waterway.
The concession came after Iraq, during an Islamic Conference last week in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, said slow movement in U.N.-sponsored peace talks could threaten a cease-fire in the war.
But Rafsanjani, who also is speaker of Iran's Parliament, told members of the all-volunteer Revolutionary Guards "it seems unlikely that Iraq will resume the war again," for "this time Iran is in a powerful position."
Rafsanjani, speaking in Ilam, a border town 250 miles southwest of Tehran, said Iran had "proven its interest in peace," and thereby "stripped the Baghdad regime of excuses" to resume hostilities.
But hard-line Iranian Prime Minister Hussein Musavi complained to a visiting Danish official Monday that Iraq was placing obstacles in the path of peace and posed a continuing danger to countries in the region.