PARIS — The French government, embroiled in its diplomatic crisis with Iran, ordered an aircraft carrier and three other ships Wednesday to head toward the Middle East to protect French interests and demonstrate firmness.
Premier Jacques Chirac told reporters that France "has no aggressive intent but wants to be respected and will do everything to make sure that it is respected." He said that the decision to send the ships "was not a dramatic one" but "a demonstration of firmness."
Asked whether there was any hope for a speedy solution to the quarrel with Iran over its refusal to allow an official in Iran's Paris embassy to be questioned by the French, Chirac said, "I would like it, but I am not ready to accept the least bit of blackmail."
No New Development
The announcement of the impending departure of the ships was made after a Cabinet meeting and a brief private discussion between President Francois Mitterrand and Chirac. At the meeting, according to government spokesmen, Minister of External Relations Jean-Bernard Raimond reported that there was no new development in the diplomatic crisis.
Naval officers said that the carrier Clemenceau and its 40 fighter aircraft, accompanied by two missile-carrying frigates and an oil supply ship, will depart from the naval base of Toulon on the Mediterranean today. The Paris newspaper Le Monde reported that the formation, which includes 3,000 personnel, should take 13 days to reach the Gulf of Oman, outside the mouth of the Persian Gulf.
The government's communique on the decision did not detail the exact reasons for the naval mission and show of force. But Minister of Defense Andre Giraud told the French press that France does not intend to send the carrier through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. He refused, however, to say whether or not the three other ships would enter the gulf, where the U.S. Navy is trying to protect Kuwaiti tankers from attack by the Iranians in the almost seven-year-old Iran-Iraq War.
2 Ships Already There
France already has two naval escort ships in the Persian Gulf, and maritime sources have reported that these warships have been escorting French tankers. But the reports have been denied by the French government.
The order to leave Toulon came as the French government continued to face an impasse in its quarrel with Iran and increasing bitterness in the rhetoric issuing from Tehran. France broke diplomatic relations with Iran on July 17 after Iran refused to let a French judge question an Iranian embassy official about the terrorist bombings in Paris that killed 11 people and wounded more than 150 last September.
The official, Wahid Gordji, is listed by the French government as an embassy interpreter without diplomatic status, but he is widely regarded as an influential figure who has often dealt in secret with important French officials.
Threat Against French
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati, who insists that Gordji has diplomatic immunity, has threatened to bring charges against the 15 French diplomats in Tehran unless all 45 Iranians, including Gordji, are allowed to leave the Paris embassy.
Meanwhile, sources in the oil industry reported that the French government has been trying to persuade French oil companies to cut back their purchases of crude oil from Iran, one of France's main suppliers. A spokeswoman for the French Ministry of Industry refused to confirm or deny the report, insisting that too many lives and interests are at stake.