WASHINGTON — President Reagan today vowed to protect the "freedom of navigation" in the Persian Gulf, and said neither Iran nor the Soviet Union must be permitted to interrupt the supply of oil to the West.
"Our national interest is at stake and we will not repeat the mistakes of the past," Reagan said after being briefed by national security advisers on plans to use American sea power to shield Kuwaiti oil tankers from Iranian attacks.
"Our goal is to seek peace rather than provocation," Reagan said in a statement read to reporters at the White House. "But our interests and those of our friends must be preserved."
Reagan did not say so, but his spokesman said earlier that the United States will begin military escorts of Kuwaiti oil tankers flying the U.S. flag "when the President decides."
No Time Put for Decision
In his brief statement, Reagan did not say when he would make such a decision.
Administration officials said earlier they had reached agreement with congressional leaders under which the Administration could put Kuwaiti tankers under U.S. protection and later consult with Congress on its actions.
Many leaders in Congress have expressed fears that such a move would draw the United States into the 6 1/2-year Iran-Iraq war. Kuwaiti tankers have been a special target of Iran since last fall.
Reagan opened his statement by recalling the oil embargoes of the 1970s and the "enormous dislocations" they caused in the United States.
"But this will not happen again," he vowed. "Not while this President serves. . . .
"The use of the vital sea lanes of the Persian Gulf will not be dictated by the Iranians. These lanes will not be allowed to come under the control of the Soviet Union."
Before making his statement Reagan met with national security advisers to hear detailed plans for protecting the Kuwaiti ships from Iranian attack.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Reagan "received a detailed presentation on the military plan to protect United States flag and naval vessels and approved the plan for further development.
"It was clear from the presentation that United States military forces have the capability to escort United States flag vessels in the gulf to deter potential attacks and defend themselves against threats from belligerent powers," the spokesman added.