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Soviets Accuse U.S. Cruiser of Intrusions

May 22, 1987|WILLIAM TUOHY | Times Staff Writer

MOSCOW — The Soviet Union charged Thursday that a U.S. Navy cruiser violated Soviet territorial waters twice in five days and protested the intrusions to Washington.

The alleged intrusions involved differing Soviet and U.S. views on the extent of Soviet territorial waters.

A spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Yuri Gremitskikh, said they took place earlier Thursday and last Sunday in waters off the Soviet Far East.

Gremitskikh said the 10,000-ton, nuclear-powered missile cruiser Arkansas entered Avacha Bay near Petropavlovsk, the site of an important naval base on the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Gremitskikh gave no other details. He said he does not know whether the Arkansas was operating independently or with a group of ships.

"The American side," he said, "was told that such violations could have most serious consequences, all responsibility for which would be squarely on the United States."

He said his government has "demanded that the American side take every essential measure to rule out such incidents in the future."

U.S. Embassy spokesman Jaroslav Verner said the Americans have been informed of the charges, but he denied there was an intrusion by the Arkansas.

"The Arkansas is steaming in international waters and has been the whole time," Verner said.

Verner said the United States recognizes national waters up to three miles from shore but that since 1986, the Soviets have claimed 36 nautical miles.

"Between 1981 and 1985 our naval ships operated routinely off Petropavlovsk," Verner said. "Since 1986, the Soviet Union has made an extension that would have, in effect, kept our ships no closer than 36 nautical miles.

He added: "We do not recognize this claim."

In Washington, Robert Sims, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said the Arkansas was in "normal operations in the Northwest Pacific." He added: "At no time did that or any other ship come closer (to the Soviet coast) than 12 nautical miles."

The Kamchatka Peninsula is one of the most sensitive military areas in the Soviet Union. The base at Petropavlovsk, on Avacha Bay, is among the major bases of the Soviet Pacific fleet.

"There is no doubt," Gremitskikh said, "that the actions by the U.S. warship were taken in clear violation of the laws and rules of the U.S.S.R. regarding Soviet territorial waters."

A number of other matters were brought up at Gremitskikh's meeting with the press, including the Iraqi air attack Sunday on the American frigate Stark in the Persian Gulf and the crash of a Soviet transport plane last October in southern Africa, in which President Samora Machel of Mozambique was killed.

Asked what Soviet navy ships operating in the Persian Gulf would do in the event of an attack like that on the Stark, Gremitskikh said, "Our ships act in accordance with our foreign policy, so as not to bring things closer to war, not to make tension worse."

He said his government does not accept a South African finding that the crash of the Soviet TU-134 transport carrying Machel was the result of pilot error. The Soviets believe, he said, that the plane was lured off course in an act of sabotage.

He said the Soviets believe that a radio signal broadcast by a portable transmitter directed the plane away from its intended landing at Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, and into mountains well to the west. The plane crashed about 200 yards inside neighboring South Africa.

The Soviet government insists on a further inquiry, he said, to "identify the culprits in this act of sabotage."

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