WASHINGTON — As Iran reported a new U.N. effort to arrange a cease-fire in the seven-year-old Iran-Iraq War, President Reagan told reporters Sunday that he has reached a decision on how to respond to Tehran's attacks on U.S.-flagged vessels in the Persian Gulf. But he gave no details.
The Iranian move took the form of an announcement that U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar will return to the war-racked region to try again to reach a cease-fire formula acceptable to both belligerents. Iran's deputy foreign minister, Ali Mohammed Besharati, reported the plan in an interview with the official Iranian news agency.
According to Besharati, Perez de Cuellar has been given "new elbow room" by the U.N. Security Council in his efforts to arrange implementation of Council Resolution 598, which was adopted July 20 and calls for an immediate cease-fire in the Persian Gulf conflict.
No U.N. Confirmation
There was no immediate confirmation from the United Nations that Perez de Cuellar has scheduled another trip to the Middle East.
Reagan commented during a brief exchange with reporters as he returned to the White House following a visit to his wife, who is recuperating from surgery at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center. Asked if he planned to make a decision this week on options for dealing with Iran, he grinned broadly and replied, "I've made it."
Reagan turned down requests for amplification, observing, "If I told you, then they (the Iranians) would know."
Late Sunday, the President conferred with a group of congressional leaders at the White House, presumably about U.S. policy in the Persian Gulf, wire services reported. CBS News reported that the group included House Speaker Jim Wright (D-Tex.) and Rep. Thomas Foley (D-Wash.)
No White House Comment
However, White House spokeswoman Liz Murphy refused to comment on the reported meeting or confirm that it even took place.
The reported U.N. peace feelers are taking place against a background of heightened tension following an Iranian missile attack Friday against a Kuwaiti tanker flying the U.S. flag. The ship was hit by a Silkworm missile fired from Iranian-held territory in Iraq's Faw Peninsula and raised the possibility of American retaliation.
Iraq immediately accepted the U.N. cease-fire proposal in July but resumed its air war against Iran six weeks later after Iran refused to publicly take a position on the resolution.
Perez de Cuellar visited Baghdad and Tehran in September but was unable to get the two belligerents to accept the truce.
Besharati said the U.N. chief will visit Tehran and Baghdad "shortly," but he gave no date for the trip.
Reagan, who warned in his weekly radio address Saturday that actions against U.S.-flagged vessels in the Persian Gulf "will be dealt with appropriately," met last Friday with his National Security Planning Group to discuss options for dealing with the Iranian attacks.
To Try Diplomacy First
According to advance copies of this week's Newsweek magazine released Sunday, the President and his advisers agreed that the Administration would seek first to use diplomacy to isolate and punish Iran. It was agreed, the report said, that any military action should be "a proportionate and measured response," modeled on the retaliatory attack launched by U.S. bombers against Libya in April, 1986. That attack, on five targets in Tripoli and Benghazi, was in response to a series of incidents attributed to Libyan terrorists.
The President directed that any military action should be directly related to Iranian aggression and be conducted at minimum risk to American lives but still be perceived as a demonstration of power and political will, Newsweek said. At the same time, according to the magazine, the action must be acceptable to U.S. allies and defensible before the United Nations.
The priority given to diplomacy suggests an awareness by the Reagan Administration that a Libya-style military action would have political consequences, both in the Persian Gulf, where friendly governments fear the war could spread, and in Congress, where Reagan is already resisting Democratic-led efforts to apply the War Powers Resolution to the U.S. peacekeeping effort in the gulf.
United Press International quoted Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III as predicting more meetings on the crisis in the gulf this week, adding that the White House has been briefing key members of Congress on developments.
Howard H. Baker Jr., the White House chief of staff, confirmed in an appearance on "John McLaughlin's One on One," which was aired Sunday but taped Friday, that the options were already before the President, but he declined any further discussion of the topic.
Maintaining that the Administration is doing no more than following its predecessors in defending freedom of the seas, Baker denied that the United States is "fighting Iraq's war against Iran."
May Be Softening Demand