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Saudis Report Broad Support for Mecca Policy : Envoy Says Heads of 40 Nations Hail Tough Stand Against Iranian Rioters

August 07, 1987|ROBERT GILLETTE | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The heads of more than 40 Muslim nations have consulted with Saudi Arabia and expressed approval of its conduct last week when Iranian extremists apparently sparked a riot in the holy city of Mecca that left more than 400 dead and 600 injured, the Saudi ambassador to the United States said Thursday.

At the same time, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, reiterating the Reagan Administration's commitment to support its trading partners in the Persian Gulf, said that Saudi Arabia's conduct appeared to have been correct in the face of what he called Iran's "outrage" in Mecca.

"At least so far as we can see, the Saudis have dealt with that very well," Shultz said in response to questions in a news conference. "We need to support our friends against that kind of intimidation."

Operation on Schedule

Shultz added that the U.S. Navy's operations escorting re-registered Kuwaiti tankers flying the American flag through the Persian Gulf are proceeding on schedule "with no particular delay." The United States will continue to "support the gulf states against intimidation by Iran," he said.

Some European nations have proposed "joint action" to clear mines from the Persian Gulf, Shultz said, in what would be an apparent reversal of their previous positions. He added that the United States is ready to discuss these ideas, but he declined to say what arrangements have been proposed or which nations have suggested them. Earlier, all Europeans nations contacted by Washington reportedly had declined to assist in minesweeping because of fear of being drawn into the conflict.

In an unusual Washington news conference, Prince Bandar ibn Sultan, the Saudi ambassador, repeated his government's rejection of Iranian charges that security forces had fired on crowds of demonstrating Shia Muslims last Friday during the annual Hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca, the holiest city of Islam.

Riot on Videotape

A 90-minute videotape of the rioting, which Bandar said had been shown in full on Saudi television and made available to other governments, shows that "not one bullet was fired" by Saudi security forces, he said.

More than half of the 275 Iranians who died were trampled in a stampede, as Iranian demonstrators--many of them brandishing knives, clubs and broken glass drawn from beneath their cloaks--clashed with police, Bandar said. He added that others, including 85 Saudi civilians and police killed in the rioting, died from stab wounds and other injuries inflicted by the rioting Iranians.

Had Saudi policemen used firearms, they would have suffered far fewer deaths and injuries, Bandar said, adding that Iran is alone among Muslim states in accusing Saudi forces of brutality in quelling the riot.

Pilgrims Jam Mecca

More than 2 million pilgrims thronged the city of Mecca at the time, of whom 150,000 were from Iran.

"Ninety-nine percent of them (the Iranians) just wanted to go home," the ambassador said, noting that only a small number of agitators appeared to have come prepared to take part in political demonstrations, which the Saudis have banned.

Iran contends that Saudi security forces fired without provocation on Iranian pilgrims demonstrating peacefully against the United States, the Soviet Union and Israel. It has vowed to "purge the holy shrines in Mecca" and overthrow the royal Saudi family, which belongs to the dominant Sunni branch of Islam.

Provocation Seen

A number of Middle East experts, however, have viewed the riots as deliberately provoked by Iran to intimidate Washington's most important ally in the gulf at a time when the United States is asking Arab states for help in clearing mines from Persian Gulf shipping channels.

Prince Bandar declined to confirm reports that one of Saudi Arabia's four minesweepers would extend its patrols into international waters in the gulf, explaining with a smile that only American officials tend to talk about military plans and movements in hostile zones.

Seated amid heavy security on a small dais in the Saudi Embassy's elegantly appointed auditorium, the prince said that "we are not nervous about our stability." He expressed disappointment that American news media seem to take Iran's inflammatory rhetoric seriously.

"It seems to me you have nothing else to do but listen to these groups," he said.

Congressmen File Suit

Also Thursday, 107 Democratic members of Congress, 22 of them from California, filed a federal civil suit to require President Reagan to give formal notice under the War Powers Act of the introduction of American forces into the Persian Gulf. When the act is invoked, Congress is empowered to decide whether to leave U.S. forces in an area where hostilities are imminent.

"Clearly, the Persian Gulf is hostile territory," California Rep. Robert T. Matsui (D-Sacramento) said. "Yet the President refuses to comply with the War Powers Act, which says he must give Congress official notice within 48 hours after introducing American forces into hostilities or situations where hostilities are imminent."

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