WASHINGTON — Threatening "all-out war" with the United States, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, Said Rajaie-Khorassani, indicated Sunday that his country has surreptitiously obtained deadly U.S.-made Stinger missiles and is prepared to use them against American forces in the Persian Gulf.
Rajaie-Khorassani's statement is certain to set off a storm of controversy in Congress this week, with some legislators demanding to know how the Iranians obtained the Stingers and others insisting that increasing hostilities in the gulf now require President Reagan to comply with the provisions of the 1973 War Powers Resolution.
The first evidence that Iran had obtained Stingers came last Thursday when American helicopters put three Iranian patrol boats out of action in an exchange of fire in the gulf. Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said that one of the boats was equipped with Stingers.
A shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile, the Stingers are considered so deadly that the United States imposes elaborate security procedures on those few allied countries and U.S.-supported insurgencies that have them. Nevertheless, critics have warned for several years that the Administration is dispensing Stingers too freely, running the risk that they will fall into the hands of a terrorist nation such as Iran.
Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.), a frequent critic of the Administration's policy on Stingers, described reports that the Iranians have obtained Stingers as "the worst scenario" for international terrorism. "Now one of our worst enemies may have one of our best weapons in one of the most volatile regions of the world," he said.
A Coy Response
When asked directly on NBC's "Meet the Press" program Sunday whether Iran has obtained Stingers, Rajaie-Khorassani coyly replied: "It seems we might have access to them." But he was less equivocal when asked if Iran intended to use the Stingers against the United States.
"We are prepared to use them against any enemy aircraft in the gulf," he said, acknowledging that Iran considers U.S. helicopters patrolling the gulf to be enemy aircraft.
At the same time, Rajaie-Khorassani accused the United States of precipitating war in the gulf.
"We will do our best in order to avoid confrontation," he said. "On the other hand, we see that the United States is conducting as many--and as often--provocative acts as possible. These provocations are nothing but dangerous, and we believe that they can easily lead to an all-out war. If the United States continues with this sort of actions, then we have to react, and that would be the outbreak of war."
The Iranian diplomat denied reports that Iran had obtained the Stingers from pro-Iranian insurgents in Afghanistan. He instead suggested that they were supplied to Tehran by Americans.
"It goes back to the old stories about the dealings with certain American middlemen," he said. "We could have gotten them from there."
Although Rajaie-Khorassani's statement appeared to be designed to link the Stingers obtained by Iran to the Iran- contra affair, congressional investigators said they have found no evidence that Stingers were sent to Iran as part of President Reagan's controversial covert weapons sales to Tehran in late 1985 and 1986. Those sales involved TOW anti-tank and Hawk anti-aircraft missiles and spare parts.
Sent to Afghanistan Groups
According to U.S. military sources, the United States is secretly supplying Stingers to about a dozen armed forces around the world, most of them North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries. The most controversial recipients are the anti-Communist insurgents in Angola and Afghanistan, who are unable to adhere to all of the elaborate security procedures required of NATO nations.
On Sept. 20, the Sunday Times of London reported that members of Younis Khalis' Islamic Party, an Afghan rebel faction with close ties to Iran, had sold at least 16 U.S.-supplied Stingers to Iran for $1 million. The Middle East Economic Digest reported Oct. 3 that some of these Stingers were put on display in Tehran last September.
But military sources cautioned that neither the Afghan nor the Angolan rebels receive enough of the Stingers at any one time to permit the accumulation of a surplus. "The idea of the Iranians having dozens of Stingers is unlikely," one source said.
In addition, these officials noted that Stingers are so complex that even U.S. soldiers are unable to fire them without six weeks of training.
On Saturday, the commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards claimed that Iran had previously obtained Stingers and was now manufacturing its own version of the missiles, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.
The questions of whether Iran has Stingers and how it got them are likely to be the focal point of a scheduled debate in the Senate this week on Reagan's Persian Gulf policy.