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From the Archives, 1988: Hawke offers Gulf peace force

First published in The Age on August 4, 1988

Hawke offers peace force

Fifteen Australian Army officers will be sent to the Persian Gulf as part of a peace monitoring force if the United Nations can get Iran and Iraq to implement a ceasefire.

The soldiers – a commander with the rank of lieutenant-colonel and the balance captains and majors – would join an international observance force of at least 250 at the invitation of the UN Secretary-General, Mr Javier Perez de Cuellar. Their job would be to patrol Iran and Iraq – particularly the border areas – and report any breaches of a ceasefire to Mr Perez de Cuellar.

Part of the UN peacekeeping force in Khoramshahr, Iran, in 1988.

Part of the UN peacekeeping force in Khoramshahr, Iran, in 1988.Credit:Getty Images

Australia’s agreement was announced yesterday by the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, at an official lunch for his British counterpart, Mrs Thatcher. “There are now, at last, some grounds for hope after the prolonged tragedy of the Iran-Iraq war,” Mr Hawke said. “Australia has been asked by the United Nations Secretary-General to make personnel available for a peacekeeping force there and we have indicated our willingness to do so.”

Later, Mr Hawke told journalists Australia had consistently expressed a deep concern about the tragedy of the Iraq-Iran war, “and we’ve used our efforts to try and get some resolution of it.” It was appropriate then, to respond to a UN request “when it does seem to offer the possibility of an end to that tragedy.”

But before there can be a peace observing team, there must be a proper ceasefire. And given the apparent advantage Iraq has not gained in the fighting that will not easily be achieved in talks at the UN, even with Iran’s agreement last month to accept unconditionally UN resolution 598.

That year-old resolution, the basis of any UN-sponsored ceasefire, demands an immediate ceasefire, the withdrawal of all forces to internationally recognised boundaries and the early exchange of prisoners of war.

The Defence Minister, Mr Beazley, said yesterday that Australia’s agreement to participate was “subject to satisfactory administrative and security arrangements,” leaving the impression that this might be an impediment to the Australian officers going.

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