UNITED NATIONS — Iranian President Ali Khamenei, in a long and vitriolic speech to the U.N. General Assembly, threatened Tuesday to retaliate for the U.S. attack on what he said was an unarmed Iranian freighter by striking at U.S. interests anywhere in the world.
"This is a beginning for a series of events, the bitter consequences of which shall not be restricted to the Persian Gulf, and the United States as the instigator of the trouble shall bear responsibility for all ensuing events," Khamenei said.
"I declare here very unequivocally that the United States shall receive a proper response for this abominable act."
'Pack of Lies'
Khamenei dismissed as "a pack of lies" the U.S. contention that the Iranian ship, the Iran Ajr, was laying mines Monday in international waters in the Persian Gulf when the U.S. military helicopters attacked it.
Although the United States displayed photographs showing mines on the deck of the Iran Ajr, Khamenei insisted that it was a commercial ship.
"Yesterday, U.S. battleships attacked Iran Ajr, an Iranian merchant ship," he said. "They murdered four and wounded three people. The ship has been seized and the crew detained." (The United States said three were killed and two are unaccounted for.)
In his one-hour-and-15-minute speech, the Iranian also left no doubt that Iran rejects the U.N. Security Council's recent resolution calling for a cease-fire in the seven-year-old Persian Gulf War.
After Khamenei's speech, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said the United States will "proceed with consultations" to drum up support on the U.N. Security Council for an arms embargo against Iran as the "intransigent party" in the war.
There was no indication, however, of when the United States will put the arms embargo before the 15-nation council. Although Shultz said he is optimistic that the measure would pass, Security Council sources said the outcome would be far from certain.
Iraq has announced that it will abide by the cease-fire if Iran will, and so the United States considers Iraq to be in compliance with the resolution.
Khamenei, an imposing figure with a bushy salt-and-pepper beard and a black turban over his hair, said Iran will never agree to a cease-fire because a truce would only allow Iraq to rebuild its military might and renew the war.
"The only guarantee for the future is the punishment of the aggressor," he said. He declared punishing Iraq to be Iran's highest priority.
Khamenei did not say how Iran plans to take revenge for the U.S. attack on the Iran Ajr, although his comments implied Iranian-backed terrorism aimed at American installations. U.S. officials said previously that intelligence reports showed Tehran was planning terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies, other diplomatic missions and military bases.
Asked about Khamenei's remarks, Shultz said: "They have made threats for quite some time. Of course, we must have our guard up and be on the alert, but we can't fail to do a thing that we must do because somebody throws threats around."
Shultz and Vernon A. Walters, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, boycotted Khamenei's speech. A lower-level U.S. delegation, led by Herbert S. Okun, Walters' assistant, sat through most of it, but when the Iranian president began his explanation of the Persian Gulf incident, Okun led the American contingent out of the hall.
Okun said later: "The false accusations that he made against our country distort the facts and totally misrepresent our policy. I do not intend to sit by passively when our country is insulted, our President is pilloried and the truth is trampled."
Singer Pearl Bailey, a member of the U.S. delegation, was among those who left. She said later it was her first walkout, and "my feet are killing me."
The Iraqi delegation boycotted the speech from the start, and Saudi Arabia walked out after Khamenei called the Saudis "American stooges." Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze did not attend, and Moscow was represented by low-level officials.
The United States said weeks ago that it was time for the Security Council to follow up its July 20 cease-fire resolution by imposing an arms embargo on Iran. But, faced with the reluctance of other Security Council members to take such a step, the United States has moved cautiously while maintaining the rhetorical pressure.
In his speech to the General Assembly on Monday, President Reagan said that unless Iran gives an unequivocal acceptance of the cease-fire, "the (Security) Council has no choice but rapidly to adopt enforcement measures."
After Khamenei heaped scorn on the Security Council and the resolution Tuesday, however, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said, "I don't have any way to put a deadline on that."
Khamenei accused the United States of using the Security Council to put pressure on Iran.