BAGHDAD, Iraq — U.S. envoy Richard W. Murphy warned Tehran on Monday against attacking American ships in the Persian Gulf just hours after Iran reportedly hit a third merchant vessel in eight days.
"We regard any attack on an American ship as a very serious affair," Murphy said. "We will do what is necessary to ensure the passage of our ships."
Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs, said at a news conference that the United States supports freedom of navigation in the international waterway.
Tehran this year has stepped up attacks on vessels plying to Kuwait because the emirate backs Iraq in its war with Iran.
Wants U.S. Flag Protection
Consequently, Kuwait, which exports all its oil via the gulf, is negotiating with the United States to re-register 11 tankers under the American flag to gain the protection of patrolling U.S. warships.
Earlier Monday, an Indian tanker bound for Kuwait, the B. R. Ambedkar, was hit by what was believed to be an Iranian patrol boat. The tanker was hit by rockets five times, but no injuries were reported. It was the 20th shipping attack blamed on Iran this year and the third such attack on international shipping in the lower gulf in eight days.
Murphy, who was in Baghdad as part of a gulf tour and later went to Doha in Qatar, was asked what would happen if Iran attacked Kuwaiti tankers flying the American flag.
"These will not be Kuwait ships. They will be ships, which in order to carry the American flag, will have to be owned by an American corporation. They will be ships which have been sold by Kuwait to this American corporation."
Iran's naval forces have stopped U.S. ships in the gulf to check them for war materiel destined for Iraq. Murphy also delivered a message from President Reagan to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein on efforts to end the 6 1/2-year-old war.
Relations between the United States and Iraq were strained when the scandal of clandestine U.S. arms sales to Iran broke last year.