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It May Resume Tanker War, Iraq Tells Shultz

July 28, 1987|From Times Wire Services

WASHINGTON — Foreign Minister Tarik Aziz of Iraq warned Monday that unless Iran promptly accepts a comprehensive cease-fire, his country might resume its attacks on shipping in the Persian Gulf.

Otherwise, Aziz told reporters after a meeting with Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Iraq would be yielding to Iranian "blackmail" by extending the voluntary 12-day moratorium while fighting continued on other fronts.

Aziz said the Iranians want "a partial halt" to the shipping war in order to continue the invasion of Iraq and to "get hold of the whole gulf region."

The foreign minister did not say how long his government would wait for Iran to respond to the cease-fire ordered by the U.N. Security Council.

Adopted unanimously by the Security Council last week, the cease-fire resolution calls for an end to fighting on all fronts, on land and in the air, as well as in gulf waters.

Voluntary Cessation

Iraq voluntarily halted its attacks on merchant ships carrying Iranian oil and other supplies for Tehran on July 15.

Meanwhile, U.S. Coast Guard officers said Monday they are determining whether the reflagged supertanker Bridgeton can carry a partial cargo under U.S. Navy escort this week despite the damage caused by a mine.

The 401,382-ton Kuwaiti tanker, re-registered and flying the American flag, hit a mine Friday while bound for Kuwait in a convoy of three U.S. warships and the 46,730-ton oil products carrier Gas Prince. Salvage experts say four of the Bridgeton's 31 oil compartments were flooded.

Pentagon officials said they believe Iran laid the mine about 18 miles west of Farsi Island, which Iranian Revolutionary Guards use as a base for speedboat attacks on shipping in the nearly seven-year-old war with Iraq.

American Determination

U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait Anthony C. E. Quainton expressed American determination that the supertanker return quickly to service. "There isn't a question of it not going," he said. "It is a question of when," he added in an interview with NBC News.

Gulf shipping sources saw U.S. resolve as stemming from reluctance to see escort efforts in the gulf founder on one mine. One shipping executive said that putting the Bridgeton in dry dock now would "make Reagan's policy look foolish and stupid."

In Tehran, Iranian Parliament Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani claimed Monday in a broadcast that Iranian gunboats remained undetected when they shadowed the U.S.-led convoy last week.

Rafsanjani said the Bridgeton explosion highlighted the "weak points" of the U.S. initiative, contending that the U.S. Administration is attempting to maintain the "fairy tale of their invulnerability."

Capt. Jerome Foley, spokesman for the Coast Guard marine inspection office in New York, said in a telephone interview that reports on the Bridgeton's condition arrived there Monday.

He said the Coast Guard hired the American Bureau of Shipping, a private company, to inspect the crippled tanker at its anchorage about 4 1/2 miles off Kuwait.

Can It Carry Cargo?

Nicholas Sandifer, a Coast Guard spokesman in Washington, said divers made videotapes of the damage to help determine whether the ship can carry cargo or must be taken for repairs.

"Our responsibility is to say if it is safe to operate," he said. "It is quite possible to operate a vessel safely with temporary repairs in many cases, but no decision has been made in this case yet."

Shipping sources in Kuwait, Iraq's western neighbor at the northern end of the gulf, said the government-owned Kuwait Oil Tanker Co. hopes to send the Bridgeton and Gas Prince south this week on the 500-mile voyage to the Strait of Hormuz.

Oil company officials want to load the Bridgeton at about 65% capacity--with nearly 260,000 tons of crude oil--and send it out of the gulf to transfer its oil into waiting foreign tankers. It then would return to dry dock for repairs.

If the vessel is declared unfit, it will have to proceed empty to a dry dock in Bahrain or Dubai for major repairs.

A maritime source in Kuwait familiar with the ship's condition said the hole in the Bridgeton's port side covered about 48 square yards, but the four compartments affected were small. "It's a big hole, but (the ship) can sail with it," he said.

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