WASHINGTON — Republican congressional leaders, fearing U.S. involvement in another faraway war, urged President Reagan today to explain his policy and seek help from Western allies before expanding the U.S. military role in the Persian Gulf.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas, speaking after a meeting of the leaders and Reagan at the White House, said the GOP lawmakers "expressed reservations" about the plan to put U.S. flags on 11 Kuwaiti tankers and told the President that those reservations are shared by the American people.
Dole also said the Republicans told Reagan that the United States should press its allies to help keep the Persian Gulf open in the face of attacks by Iran and Iraq.
"It's hard to understand with this trade deficit and all the other problems we have with the Japanese, we're providing a free escort service," Dole said.
He and Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) said the allies should supply manpower, equipment or cash to the American effort to protect the gulf, through which much of the West's oil is shipped.
Letter From Shultz
As a furor over consultation mounted on Capitol Hill, the senators also chided Reagan for not consulting with them about policy in the gulf. The White House responded that Congress showed little interest until Iraqi missiles ripped through the frigate Stark on May 17.
Presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater released the text of a May 20 letter from Secretary of State George P. Shultz to House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) that set forth Administration policy in the gulf.
"Our forces are not in a situation of actual hostilities, nor does their continued presence in the area place them in a situation in which imminent involvement in hostilities is indicated, although we are mindful of recent Iranian statements threatening U.S. and other ships under protection," Shultz said.
The letter also said, "The frequent and accelerating Iranian attacks on shipping have spread the war geographically to the lower gulf and have heightened the risk to all the littoral states." Accordingly, he said, the United States would proceed with plans to re-flag the Kuwaiti ships.
Fitzwater said Reagan told the GOP leaders that "he definitely would be discussing the gulf question at the summit" of allied economic partners in Venice June 8-10.
But on the question of charging a fee for escorting tankers that provide Japan and Europe with much of their oil, Fitzwater said, "Basically, the Administration has no response."
Byrd Calls for Halt
On Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic leader Robert C. Byrd called for a halt in the plan to protect Kuwaiti tankers until Congress is assured U.S. servicemen will be protected.
Byrd, of West Virginia, offering his sharpest criticism yet of the Administration's policy, said in a speech on the Senate floor that no new commitments should be entered into "until we're completely satisfied that a militarily effective plan . . . has been developed and will be implemented."
And House Speaker Wright, irritated that only Republicans had been asked to meet with Reagan, said Administration efforts to brief congressional leaders have been "non-existent to this point."