WASHINGTON — President Reagan told Congress today that the Navy attack on an Iranian ship laying mines in the Persian Gulf was conducted under authority of Article 51 of the U.N. Charter and did not require notification of lawmakers under the War Powers Resolution.
In a letter to Congress and an accompanying press release, Reagan gave a formal account of the incident in which three Iranian sailors were killed and 26 taken into U.S. custody. "We regard this incident as closed," he told the lawmakers.
He said the United States is taking steps to repatriate the 26 survivors and return the bodies.
Reagan's comments came as the Senate debated whether to require the President to report on the incident under terms of the 1973 law, which, if invoked, would allow Congress to disapprove the stationing of troops in the gulf within 60 days.
Reagan, who opposes the War Powers Resolution, said: "These limited defensive actions have been taken by our armed forces in accordance with international law and pursuant to my constitutional authority with respect to the conduct of foreign relations and as commander in chief.
"While being mindful of the historical differences between the legislative and executive branches of government, and the positions taken by all of my predecessors in office, with respect to the interpretation and constitutionality of certain provisions of the War Powers Resolution, I nonetheless am providing this report in a spirit of mutual cooperation toward a common goal."
Referring to Monday's helicopter attack on the ship Iran Ajr, caught laying mines in the gulf, Reagan said: "Acting in self-defense and pursuant to standing peacetime rules of engagement for the region, two U.S. helicopters operating off the USS Jarrett engaged the Iranian vessel, which subsequently resumed its mine-laying activities. Thereupon, the helicopters re-engaged the Ajr, disabling it with rocket and machine-gun fire and curtailed the further release of mines.
"The actions taken by U.S. forces were conducted in the exercise of our right of self-defense under Article 51 of the U.N. Charter," he said.
"Mining of the high seas, without notice and in an area of restricted navigation, is unlawful and a serious threat to world public order and the safety of international maritime commerce."
The President said that the United States is looking for a negotiated settlement to the Iran-Iraq War but that U.S. forces will continue to "defend ourselves as necessary."
Chides Soviet Union
In his public statement, Reagan chided the Soviet Union for apparently softening its support of a U.N. Security Council resolution sought by the United States that would impose an arms embargo on Iran.
"We hope that the Soviet Union will cooperate . . . rather than delaying and seeking opportunities to expand their own influence at the expense of peace in the region."
After the attack on the Iran Ajr, Senate Democrats considered pushing an amendment that would invoke the War Powers Resolution.
The Democratic-backed proposal had gone through at least four drafts by early this afternoon, ranging from mildly critical to cutting off money for military operations under certain circumstances.
The final form was still unclear, and no vote was expected before evening.