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Iranian-Kurdish Confrontation Relaxes

Iranian Kurdish Confrontation Relaxes Khomeini Transfers Polemics From Autonomy-Seeking Minority to U.s. By Jonathan C. Randal Washington Post Foreign Service TEHRAN, Nov. 22—The recent anti- American campaign here has helped produce a breakthrough in the long stymied negotiations between Iranian revolutionary authorities and Kurdish rebels pressing for constitutional guarantees of autonomy for their western province. Following the student takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and the capture of American hostages, Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhol- lah Khomeini has invoked the need for national unity against the Unite.i States. This nationalism has allowed him to drop, with minimum of public embarrassment, his call last summer to crush the Kurds which has proved militarily unattainable. There are fears that autonomy for Iran's nearly 4 million Kurds could destabilize much of the Middle East since large Kurdish populations live in neighboring Iraq, Turkey and the So- viet Union, as w U as a smaller con- centration in Syria. iranians also fear that autonomy for the Kurds would have a disruptive .mpact on Iran's other minorities, which also seek au- tonomy. Khomeini has called for continued negotiations in an uncharacteristically conciliatory message to the Kurds Refering to his ag. and precarious health, Khomeini, 79, said he was “ex- pressing my humble desire as a servi- tor of the nation who is passing his last days of life.' Only three months ago he singled out the Kurds for rebuke much as he does the United States today. Similarly, the anti-American fervor sweeping Iran has served as a conven- ient vehicle for extreme leftist Kurd- ish groups to accept a silent partner status in a new round of negotiations underway with a government good- will mission. By Dave Coolc—The Washington Post Previously, the Marxist-Leninist Fe- dayeen guerrillas and the Revolution- ary Organization of Toilers of Kurdis- tan, or Komala, were considered to be determined to continue fighting, even if the majority Kurdish Democratic Party struck a deal with government negotiators. An overall agreement still appears far away, according to analysts, de- spite cautious optimism in Kurdistan sparked off by Khomeini's message.

The Kurds are demanding that au- tonomy be guaranteed in Iran's Is- lamic constitution, which is tenta- tively scheduled for referendum ap- proval in little more than two weelcs. The constitution makes no provision for any deviation from a highly cen- tralized state. This stand reflects a long-held Persian fear that autonomy for Kurdistan could prompt similar demands from oil rich Khuzestan, Ba- luchistan, the Turkornans and Azerba- ijan, which account for roughly half of Iran's population.

In the negotiations in Mahabad, the capital of an ill-fated Soviet-backed Kurdish republic in 1946, Dariush Fo- ruhar, the top government delegate, and Kurdish Democratic Party leader Abder Rahman Qassemlou have stressed that their first task Is consoli- dating a still precarious week-old cease-fire and turning it into a bind- ing armistice. “We appreciate” Khomeini's “good- will,” Qassemlou said, but hope his representatives show a “willingness” to translate them into reality. Although both Revolutionary Guards and Army troops have pulled back from the major Kurdish towns, the Kurds want the Revolutionary Guards withdrawn from the province entirely. The Kurds also want to “freeze” both the numbers of Army troops in Kurdistan and their freedom of move- ment within it. Yet a third problem involves smoothing out problems amoqg the ri- val Kurdish groups. Long considered “American agents” by the. revolution- aries because of their uncompromis- ing refusal to stop fighting, the Feday. een and Komala now have agreed to allow Sheik Ezzedine Hosseini to rep- •resent them during the negotiations. The sheik is considered an accepta- ble spokesman for all Kurdish fac- tions. They presumably would work out their tactics privately before meeting Qassemlou and the govern- ment negotiators. Hossini has agreed to participate in the talks after Khomeini's message indrictly met his demands for a formal apology. During the summer, Khomeini con- demned both the sheik and Qassem- lou calling them ‘corrupt of the earth.” Khomeini refused any further dealings with them and tried to crush the Kurds. But the Revolutionary Guards' poor showing and the Army's equally lick- luster performance against the Kurds' forced Khomeini to yield. Only after the military aspects of the problem are settled will the nego- tiators tackle the heart of the auton- omy question, acording to Qassemlou who returned to Mahabad Sunday at ter hiding three months in the moun- tains. The government ‘s present proposal offers the Kurds control of all eco- nomic, political, social and cultural as- pects of their province. National de- fense, foreign policy, monetary mat- ters and long-term economic planning remain a central government preroga- tive. That proposal will be measured against a Kurdish draft, which has yet to be completed apparently because of differences among the various Kurd- ish groups. Foruhar has asked already for post- ponement of the national constitu- tional referendum planned for early December, seemingly acknowledging that it would be hard to conclude the negotiations by then. Among those preaching moderation to the Kurdish Democratic Party is a delagation of the Tude h or pro-Mos- cow communist party. Cynics, noting Tudeh's support for Khomeini, are convinced its tactics are motivated by a desire to advoid any pretex for in- creasing the armed forces. Still in a shambles after the Febru- ary revolution, that overthrew Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the armed forces suffer from a depleted officer corps, masive desertions, poor main- tanance of equipment and spare parts shortages. Failure of the current talks might prompt Terhan to launch a massive build-up of the military to crush the Kurds. That would mean that Tudeh would face a strong military machine at a time the left is said to be making hearway in infiltrating key positions in the revolutionary government.

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Kurds, Washington Post