NICOSIA, CYPRUS, JAN. 7 -- Two Syrian mediators met with the ruler of the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain today amid unconfirmed reports that they had persuaded Iran to postpone an offensive against Iraq and were laying the groundwork for a meeting to reconcile Tehran with Arab states in the gulf.
Speculation about a possible breakthrough in the 7-year-old war between Iran and Iraq has been rebounding through the region for several days, fueled by the latest peace mission involving Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam and Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa.
The two men, who already have visited Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, are reportedly attempting to arrange a conference between Iran and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, made up of Saudi Arabia, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain.
Bahrain's official news agency said they met with Bahrain's ruler, Sheik Isa Bin Sulman Khalifa, and gave him a message from Syrian President Hafez Assad. They were to go next to the United Arab Emirates.
The official Kuwaiti newspaper Arab Times said yesterday that a "feeling of optimism is prevailing in Kuwait for a tangible progress toward an end of the gulf war."
Louis Fares, a Syrian journalist who has been used in the past by the Damascus government to leak stories, was widely quoted today as saying that the Syrian mediation effort had persuaded Iran to call off a planned offensive against the southern Iraqi city of Basra, at least for now. Fares said that Iran had also agreed to halt attacks against Kuwait, as well as against civilian shipping in the gulf.
In return, Iraq, at the prodding of Saudi Arabia, was reported to have agreed to stop attacks against Iranian shipping.
Fares said that Khaddam, a key aide to Assad, and Charaa, who shuttled between Iran and Saudi Arabia last month, were now attempting to set up a meeting between Gulf Cooperation Council members and Iran. If this report is correct, Iran would be postponing a major ground offensive at the time of year when the terrain around Basra is considered to be in the best possible condition for a large-scale infantry attack.