The United Nations Security Council called on Iran and Iraq tonight to stop shooting and settle their dispute by peaceful means.
The 15 members of the Council, including the Soviet Union, approved the statement at the end of deliberations that lasted most of the afternoon and evening. A Soviet objection delayed the final approval until after 10 p.m.
The statement, which was adopted without a public meeting, was announced by the president of the Security Council, Tunisian Ambassador Taieb Slim.
The Council called on the combatants "as a first step toward a solution of the conflict to desist from all armed activity and all acts that may worsen the present dangerous situation and to settle their dispute by peaceful means."
The statement adopted tonight was approved in a "consultation meeting" of the Security Council, as distinct from a formal and public Council session. Such consultation meetings usually lay the groundwork for later action. It is unusual, but not unprecedented for a public statement to be adopted at such a preliminary meeting on behalf of the members of the Council.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Donald McHenry said he would "not be surprised" at further steps by the United Nations, including a formal meeting of the Security Council within the next several days.
There was no indication whether either Iran or Iraq is prepared to heed the appeal from the world body. McHenry said the world organization has "no links to Tehran" at the present moment.
The Soviet Union's willingness to approve the call for an end to the fighting was considered significant, despite the earlier objections on procedural grounds that seemed to suggest that the Soviets were seeking to protect the position of their military client, Iraq.
U.S. officials here said they did not believe that the Soviet Union had instigated te conflict. Some U.S. officials said that the fighting posed difficulties for the Soviets, who have close ties to Iraq as that country's chief military supplier but who also seek a position in Iran, strategically located on the Soviet border.
The Security Council statement climaxed a day of intensive maneuvering among diplomats here as Eastern as well as Western nations reacted to the growing violence in the Persian Gulf.
With the world's most influential foreign ministers gathered here for the opening days of the annual General Assembly session and a large part of the world's petroleum supply at stake, many agreed with British Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington that it would be "unthinkable" for the United Nations to fail to act.
The practical difficulties, however, proved formidable.
Iraq offered to present its case to an emergency meeting of the representatives of Islamic states this afternoon, but Iran refused to do so. Despite the fact that Iran has alienated many Islamic countries by its strident policies since the fall of the shah, representatives of the Islamic nations declined to hear Iraq without hearing from its foe, Iran.
The Islamic meeting broke up after agreeing to express "grave concern" over the fighting and its "far-reaching and negative economic consequences." But the Islamic nations failed to call for a ceasefire or to endorse any action that the combatants, or the United Nations, might take.
The emergency meeting of Security Council members convened with no clear guidelines from the nations involved or a formal expression from those in the area.
There was argument inside the closed-door meeting about whether the members of the Security Council could take any action without a formal, public meeting to state their positions. As ever more alarming reports of the fighting were received, concern grew and the option of saying and doing nothing seemed unacceptable.
Secretary General Kurt Waldheim, who called for the Security Council consultations, offered his "good offices" for mediation. This offer was endorsed by the Security Council members tonight. But there was no indication that Iran or Iraq is ready for a U.N. mediation role.