AMMAN, JORDAN, SEPT. 9 -- Iraqi Foreign Minister Tariq Aziz, stepping up his government's campaign against United Nations trade sanctions, arrived in Iran today for the first visit by a high-level Iraqi official since the two nations went to war 10 years ago.
The visit by Aziz, a key adviser to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, appeared to put a personal seal on the Baghdad government's decision last month to accept Iranian terms for a formal end to the bloody eight-year war between the Persian Gulf neighbors. But sources in Baghdad and Tehran said Aziz's trip appeared aimed, in part, at finding a way to circumvent the trade embargo imposed by the U.N. Security Council against Iraq after its Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
Since Saddam's offer last month to settle long-standing disputes with Tehran, the two countries have traded thousands of war prisoners and begun adjusting sections of their 750-mile common border altered after military incursions during the grinding conflict.
In Tehran, the official government radio announced that Aziz and his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Velayati, were discussing further moves to implement a U.N. Security Council resolution underpinning the two-year-old cease-fire that ended the Iran-Iraq war.
But the Iraqi government previously made clear that Aziz also intended to present Baghdad's case for cooperation on trade. Observers in Tehran said they expected Aziz to seek Iran's help in providing food and medicine.
The Iranian news agency IRNA reported that the foreign ministers met for 2 1/2 hours, and it said both officials expressed satisfaction with the peace process underway between the two countries and with their nations' commitment to complete the prisoner-of-war exchanges. About 50,000 war prisoners have been swapped, according to reports in Tehran, and the exchanges are expected to continue for at least two more weeks at a rate of about 900 prisoners a day.
Aziz explained Iraq's position in the current gulf crisis, IRNA said. It added that Velayati reiterated Iran's stand, emphasizing the situation's sensitivity. Iran has condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, but has also criticized the U.S.-led military buildup in the region.
Aziz's reception in Tehran appeared subdued. He was greeted at the airport by Velayati, who arrived about 10 minutes late, and the two immediately left by car. No ceremony was held, Iraqi flags were not displayed along their route, and the meeting was given little attention by Iran's news media, which today repeated Tehran's endorsement of U.N. sanctions against Iraq.
Some diplomats in Baghdad have suggested that Iraqi efforts to circumvent the trade ban may entail overt or covert border crossings. The Iran-Iraq border has been open to traders and smugglers for centuries, and such commerce continued on a small scale even during the eight-year war. According to Baghdad sources, it can be expected to flourish in violation of the U.N. embargo in months ahead.
But Iraq is seeking broader trade openings, diplomats argued. Saddam needs an outlet for his country's oil -- exports and purchases of which are banned under the embargo -- as well as a way to obtain spare parts for military equipment and for his country's petroleum and other industries.
Baghdad has been in touch with a number of governments in an effort to bypass the embargo, sources said. Some governments, which the sources did not identify, have shown interest, but diplomats said that no deals have been reached.
Sources said Iraqi officials have offered lucrative business contracts to some countries, while seeking to persuade other governments through threats. Saddam's government has warned several countries that their nationals employed in Iraq as laborers will not be given food and cannot leave the country until Iraq receives food shipments, diplomats said.
These countries reportedly include India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, all of which have thousands of nationals in Iraq. South Asian workers often are employed by Iraqi ministries under contracts that provide for lodging and food.
The Bangladeshi Foreign Ministry said today that the government is "gravely concerned" over the fate of its citizens in Iraq. A spokesman, Mostafizur Rahman, told reporters in Dhaka that about 15,000 Bangladeshi workers have been stranded in Iraq. Thousands also fled Kuwait after the invasion, some to Jordan and others to Turkey. The Bangladeshis' case is thought to be particuarly sensitive because Lt. Gen. Hussein Mohammed Ershad, Bangladesh's president, has agreed to dispatch a small contingent of soldiers to join the multinational force arrayed against Iraq in Saudi Arabia.
However, analysts said, any move by the Tehran government to heed Aziz's appeal for help in circumventing the embargo would likely undermine Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's efforts to improve relations with the West. The Iranian leader has been described as eager to end his country's isolation and gain Western help in postwar reconstruction. An announcement after a meeting of Iran's National Security Council Saturday underscored the Tehran government's stand. It said the council had discussed "the importance of a speedy return of peace and security to the region and unacceptability of any change in geopolitics, independence and territorial integrity of all countries."
Special correspondent Sharif Imam-Jomeh in Tehran contributed to this report.