The Kremlin today spurned an Iranian request that the Soviets halt arms shipments to ally Iraq, while telling Tehran's ambassador here that Moscow remains "neutral" in the escalating conflict between the two Persian Gulf nations.
A few hours after his Kremlin session, Iranian envoy Mohammed Mokri told a press conference that Soviet officials also turned aside his request that Moscow formally condemn what he termed Iraqi agression against Iran. The Soviets "very clearly said they are going to remain neutral," Mokri said, even though they plan to continue to supply arms to Baghdad under a 1972 friendship treaty.
"We are surprised by our Soviet friends," Mokri asserted. "We know they have supplied guns for use against the Israelis. We cannot see why those guns are now used against us."
The ambassador's blunt disclosure underscores the unhappy predicament that the conflict poses for the Kremlin, which has long had generally good relations with Iraq, and has sought better relations with Iran, despite barely disguised but deep-seated hostility toward the super-power neighbor from the Islamic revoluntionaries in Tehran.
Mokri indicated that Tehran considers the Soviet handling of its arms shipments and the general situation posed to the Kremlin by the clashes to be a major test of Sovet attitudes toward Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's struggling government. The Soviets, he said, had benefited from the Iranian revolution, which deposed the shah nearly two years ago, because Iran had withdrawn from a U.S. dominated defense pact and had closed down American intelligence installations.
Mokri met with Inamzhon Uskankhodzhayev, a Soviet vice president and leader of the Moslem-oriented Republic of Uzbekistan, and Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Maltsev, who yesterday met with Tareq Aziz, a top Iraqi official. Aziz came here two days ago on a rush trip that may have been aimed at securing increased Soviet arms shipments for Baghdad during its border confrontaton with Iran. The Iraqi returned to Baghdad today.
Mokri said Tehran is grateful for the Soviet assurance of neutrality, and claimed that Aziz had failed in his mission. He also said he was certain Soviet arms shipments in fact had slowed on the eve of the outbreak of the fighting. The envoy asserted that the slowdown was a result of his own diplomatic efforts. Last month, he threatened to withdraw from Moscow if the arms shipments to Iraq did not cease.
He complained that some of the Soviet arms going to Iraq are being secretly forwarded to counterrevolutionary forces inside Iran, and added, "We know that if the Soviet Union stops supplying arms to Iraq, that regime could not last one week."
"It is not very clear to us how the Soviets can supply arms that are used to massacre us and also are used inside our country," he said. "We all know the conflict could flare into a major international" confrontation.
Mokri said Iraq "connived" with the United States to start hostilities, even though he is sure, he said, that unlike the Soviets, the Americans have not supplied "one bullet" to Baghdad. He is certain of U.S. involvement, he said, "because we think the U.S. would benefit more than anyone else from this conflict, and the U.S. has been making threats against us."
Soviet alquiescene to Iran's requests "could be very beneficial to future relations," he added, but if Moscow does not comply, "it doesn't mean we will abandon our Islamic mission."
Meanwhile, the Soviets, in their first authoritative comment on the strife, said today that the confrontation was only aiding Western imperialists and called on the two countries to begin peace talks. Izvestia asserted, "The U.S. is not averse to profiting from contradictions that have arisen and to getting the maximum advantage from its imperialist plans. Israel wishes to profit from the conflict too."