JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Secretary of State George P. Shultz assured King Fahd on Saturday that the United States will help Saudi Arabia and its smaller Arab neighbors defend themselves against escalating Iranian attacks, which have drawn them into the Iran-Iraq War.
Shultz met with the Saudi monarch for nearly three hours at Fahd's palace in this Red Sea port a day after Iran attacked a U.S.-registered tanker in the Persian Gulf, a strike that raised widespread speculation about U.S. retaliation.
"I assured King Fahd of the steadfastness of the United States," he said. "It is ready to help Saudi Arabia cope with this dangerous period."
Saudi Arabian leaders are becoming increasingly nervous about the expanding Iran-Iraq War. Arab officials have said privately that they are concerned that the United States will pull out of the gulf, as it did out of Lebanon after the terrorist bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1984, leaving Saudi Arabia and its smaller Arab neighbors to face an enraged and militarily superior Iran. Shultz sought to calm those fears.
Shultz said that Fahd "is as outraged as we are" about the Iranian missile attack, which hit the U.S.-registered tanker Sea Isle City early Friday, and the similar attack on the U.S.-owned, Liberian-registered tanker Sungari the day before.
"Iran is demonstrating an open hostility toward its neighboring states in the gulf," he said. "The events in Mecca (when Iranian pilgrims staged a demonstration that was put down by Saudi security forces) are an indication. The (missile) strikes in Kuwait are examples. This only underscores the apparent unwillingness of Iran not only to end its war with Iraq but to restrain itself with respect to non-belligerent countries.
"What we will avoid by having a strong deterrent posture is what Iran clearly wants--namely to become the dominant power in the gulf," he added.
At the time the United States agreed last spring to allow Kuwait to re-register 11 of its oil tankers under the American flag, U.S. officials said that Iran would be reluctant to attack U.S. ships because the Tehran regime would not wish to provoke a military confrontation with the U.S. Navy.
Can't Read Iranian Minds
The missile attack on the Sea Isle City was the first direct attack on a U.S.-registered vessel. However, Shultz and other U.S. officials noted Friday that the ship was in port in Kuwait and was not under U.S. naval escort on the high seas. A senior U.S. official suggested Saturday that the Iranians may simply have attacked the Kuwaiti port without singling out the U.S.-flagged ship. But Shultz said later that the United States would not split hairs to find a graceful way to avoid retaliation.
"I have no way of knowing about some mysterious Iranian intent and can only infer it from the facts that an American-registered ship was hit," Shultz said.
Shultz said that because of Iran's latest attacks on Kuwait, the United States will redouble its efforts to persuade the U.N. Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Iran. The Security Council ordered a cease-fire in July and threatened to take further action against either side if the two countries refused to comply with the order. Iraq said it would agree to stop fighting if Iran would, but Iran has not accepted the truce.
Because the Iranians have not flatly rejected the Security Council's call, however, the 15-nation panel has instructed Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar to attempt, by diplomatic means, to win Tehran's approval of the cease-fire. Shultz has said he is skeptical of the diplomatic effort and has urged the Security Council to move promptly to adopt an arms embargo.
To Discuss Embargo Plan
Shultz said he would discuss the embargo plan with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze when he visits Moscow after his Middle East trip. The Soviets have advocated giving Perez de Cuellar plenty of time to try to gain Iran's voluntary compliance.
Shultz also urged Kuwait to seek a separate Security Council resolution calling for an end to Iranian attacks on non-belligerent states.
He said the Kuwaitis must decide whether to take the issue to the Security Council at once or to first try to enlist the support of the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Arab League.
"We believe Kuwait should move diplomatically in the U.N., and the broader the support for its position from the states in the region, the better," Shultz said.
Returns to Jerusalem
Shultz's meeting with Fahd began an hour late and ran almost an hour longer than planned. Later, he returned to Jerusalem for additional talks with Israeli leaders. He is scheduled to continue his meetings in Israel today and also plans to accept an honorary degree from the Weizmann Institute of Science near Tel Aviv.
Meanwhile on Saturday, Palestinians burned tires and chanted anti-U.S. slogans in scattered demonstrations against Shultz's visit on the West Bank of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip.
In Gaza, Israeli troops opened fire on a car that failed to stop at a roadblock near the town of Khan Yunis, wounding its four Arab occupants, one seriously, authorities said.
Palestinian students at the Islamic University in Gaza City called a one-day boycott of classes and held a noisy but peaceful campus demonstration.
Shultz is scheduled to meet today with several Palestinian notables from the occupied territories--none of them, however, with ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization.