State Department envoy Morris Draper, after a rare contact between high-ranking officials of Iraq and the United States, said today that he saw no likelihood the two countries would reestablish diplomatic relations soon.
Draper, the State Department's second-ranking Middle East official, said he was "frankly pleased" with the outcome of talks here yesterday and today, adding that "the stage is set for a free dialogue." But he cautioned against hopes of any imminent resumption in U.S.-Iraqi relations, which were broken during the 1967 Arab-Israel war.
"There is not going to be any resumption of diplomatic relations in the early future," Draper said in an interview. "They are still at odds with us on the Middle East peace process. . . . They are still waiting to see what we are going to do."
Iraqi officials were not immediately available to comment on the meetings.
Nonetheless, the visit of Draper, who is deputy assitant secretary for Middle East affairs, confirmed the impression among U.S. officials here and in Washington that Iraq's attitude toward the United States is slowly changing afer a decade of chilly relations.
A major factor in this thaw has been the decision by the Reagan administration not to provide Iran with arms as a result of the release of the American hostages and to remain neutral in teh Iraq-Iranian war.
Another may be Iraqi discontent with Soviet neutrality in the war despite a treaty between the two nations and Iraq dependence of Moscow for much of its arms.
But it also fits into a pattern of changing Iraqi diplomacy from a radical to a more moderate stance, including a rapprochement with Saudi Arabia and the other conservative Persian Gulf sheikdoms, before the next nonaligned summit here in 1982 and Iraq's assumption of the organization's presidency.
U.S. diplomatic sources here said Iraq is interested in attaching more Americans companies to do buisness and that this is probably the main immediate objective in improving relations with the United States rather than restoration of diplomatic ties.
Draper said he came at the initiative of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. to brief Iraq on his trip as well as to clarify the administration's views toward the region.
He met for an hour yesterday with Iraqi Foreign Minister Saadoun Hammadi and for two hours today with Mohammed Said Sahhaf, who heads the Foreign Ministry section in charge of relations with North America, Western Europe and the Socialist countries.
The last visit by a high-ranking U.S. official was in May 1977, when Philip Habib, then under secretary of state of political affairs, reportedly received a chilly reception.
U.S. officials here said the Iraqis appeared to welcome Draper's visit. "They are willing to improve the dialogue with the United States," one official said.
Iraq, the Persian Gulf's second largest oil exporter before the war with Iran, and South Yemen are the only Middle East countries that still have no renewed relations with the United States since the 1967 war.
Until recently, Iraq had taken the lead in organizing Arab opposition to peace talks with Israel, strenuously opposed the Camp David accords and vehemently denounced the Carter doctrine and the U.S. Rapid Deployment Force presence in the Persian Gulf region.
Just last week, Hammadi discounted the possibility of any change in Iraq's attitude toward renewing ties with Washington until there was some sign of a shift in U.S. policy toward Israel. But Iraqi officials have not said what precise change would be necessary, leading some U.S. analysts to think they may now be less demanding than previously.
The United States has branded Iraq a "terrorist" country and, as a result of this and the war, suspended the sale of U.S.-made turbine engines for four 2,500-ton frigates being built in Italy for the Iraqi Navy.
Nonetheless, trade between the two countries is steadily increasing and the U.S. government has just decided to go ahead with the sale of two Boeing 747 and three Boeing 727 civilian aircraft in a $200 million deal awaiting congressional approval. International Harvester has just won a contract worth about $100 million to sell Iraq 1,800 dump trucks.
The United States last year ranked fourth among Western nations selling industrial and consumer goods to Iraq, with $725 million in sale, according to U.S. officials.