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Thatcher Backs U.S., Calls Raid on British Ship 'Outrageous'

September 23, 1987|Associated Press

LONDON — British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher on Tuesday strongly defended the U.S. attack on an Iranian ship laying mines in the Persian Gulf, saying Western navies should "go for the people who are causing the trouble in the first place."

Britain also demanded an apology for what Thatcher called an "absolutely outrageous" attack by an Iranian gunboat on a gulf tanker flying the British flag.

The 57,500-ton Gentle Breeze, registered in the British colony of Hong Kong, was set ablaze Monday night, and a Filipino crewman was killed in the attack. Shortly afterward, U.S. helicopter gunships attacked another Iranian vessel, the Iran Ajr, found laying mines.

Asked by reporters whether the U.S. attack risked a further escalation of the gulf conflict, Thatcher retorted:

"Look, let's get things straight. If that ship was laying mines, again an attack on innocent merchantmen . . . the merchantmen are entitled to expect the navies of the world to defend the merchantmen. Go for the people who are causing the trouble in the first place."

The British Foreign Ministry said it is protesting to Iran "in the strongest terms" over the attack on the Gentle Breeze and demanding an immediate explanation and apology.

Iran's charge d'affaires in London, Mohammed Akhoudzadeh Basti, was summoned to the Foreign Office for 20 minutes to receive the protest.

Thatcher told reporters while touring Wolverhampton in central England that the attack was "a disgrace, an absolutely outrageous attack, a rocket attack on an innocent merchantman with no defense, and it hit the crew's quarters."

Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe termed the attack "barbaric, cowardly and unjustified."

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