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Britain, Israel Applaud; Soviets Call Action 'Aggression'

October 20, 1987|From Times Wire Services

The American destruction of an Iranian oil platform in the Persian Gulf drew applause Monday from the British and Israeli governments, condemnation from the Soviet Union and Syria and words of concern from other countries over the deteriorating situation in the region.

In the Middle East, Arab officials generally welcomed the U.S. move, but shipping agents said that it could make things worse in the region, where Iran and Iraq have been at war for seven years.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain praised the action, but other West European governments generally declined comment. Japan, which gets at least 50% of its oil from the gulf, said it "understands the circumstances" leading to the attack but was noncommittal beyond that.

In Dallas, where she is visiting her son, Mark, Thatcher said: "The action was absolutely right. It was a measured response. We are fully in support of President Reagan."

The Soviet Union criticized the action as an unjustified "act of armed aggression" against Iran, according to the official news agency Tass. A Tass commentary linked the attack to the Iran- contra affair and what it said was a U.S. desire to secure a military foothold in the gulf.

U.S. warships were moved to the region "under the pretext of 'defending shipping' " but were really put there because of "stubborn attempts to lay hands on permanent military bases in the gulf nations," Tass asserted.

In Jerusalem, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres applauded the U.S. action, saying it would secure freedom of navigation in the gulf.

A Western diplomat in the gulf region said that leaders of moderate Arab states appeared somewhat disappointed by what President Reagan called a "prudent yet restrained" response to Iran's attack Friday on the tanker Sea Isle City.

"The mood among the people, particularly those here, seems to be one of gung ho, wanting something big done against the Iranians," said the diplomat, who is not an American but who sympathizes with U.S. policy. "They might see this as being enough to cause a lot of problems but not enough really to teach the Iranians a lesson," he said.

A highly placed official of an Arab government, speaking on condition of anonymity said: "It is about time the Americans moved to discipline the Iranians, but we believe Kuwait is still endangered by Iran's Silkworm missile batteries."

In London, the government said that Washington had notified it in advance of Monday morning's assault but did not ask for assistance. Britain has three warships and four minesweepers in the gulf.

Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe, saying that recent Iranian actions constitute "a flagrant abuse" of international law, declared: "The United States is fully entitled to take military action in exercise of its rights of self-defense in the face of the imminent threat of further attacks."

"I trust the Iranians will fully understand that continuing attacks . . . will only enhance the justification for firm action in self-defense," Howe added.

The British opposition Labor Party was critical of the action, saying that the United States was acting as "the self-appointed vigilante" in the gulf.

Gerald Kaufman, Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, said: "The United States has turned the ratchet of violence in the gulf a further dangerous notch. We all deplore and detest Iranian aggression and piracy in the gulf, but that cannot justify unilateral retaliation by the United States. . . ."

Kaufman called on the United Nations to intervene "to take over the policing of the gulf to prevent further tit-for-tat retaliation which could produce a world crisis."

Radio Damascus, in a broadcast from the Syrian capital monitored in Cyprus, said the United States has perpetrated "another act of aggression."

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