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Will Block Oil Traffic if Its Tankers Are Stopped: Iran

May 18, 1988| From Times Staff and Wire Reports and

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Iranian President Ali Khamenei said Tuesday that his forces will block all oil movement in the Persian Gulf if its tankers are stopped, the Iranian news agency IRNA reported.

If Iran fails to export its oil, "there would be no way for any other country to do the same through the waterway," IRNA, monitored in Nicosia, quoted him as saying.

The Iranian threat came three days after a long-range Iraqi air raid on Iran's main oil export terminal at Larak Island in the southern gulf set two tankers on fire and damaged three others.

One of the stricken tankers, the Spanish-registered Barcelona, exploded Tuesday while being shepherded by tugboats, leaving seven tug crewmen missing, officials reported.

Industry sources said Iranian exports are unlikely to suffer from the raid, which left the world's largest ship, the Seawise Giant, on fire and in danger of sinking.

Khamenei said the Iraqi attacks on Iran's oil facilities were inspired by the United States to deprive Iran of its chief source of revenue and to defeat its Islamic revolution.

Iran accused the American fleet in the Persian Gulf of helping the raid on Larak by jamming Iranian radar. The U.S. State Department has denied the charge.

In London, Lloyd's Shipping Intelligence Unit said Tuesday that Iraqi jets attacked the sixth tanker in Iranian service within three days. The attack on the 112,445-ton Iranian tanker Bisoton came as it steamed off the Iranian coast Monday, Lloyd's said.

Iran's ability to shut off the flow of oil entirely is in doubt.

'Has to Make Tough Speeches'

"Khamenei has to make tough speeches to show he isn't getting soft," one Western diplomat said. "But its very doubtful Iran can muster the military hardware for a gulf blockade."

In Washington, meanwhile, Pentagon officials said that the military helicopter that disappeared over the Persian Gulf on the day the Navy clashed with Iranian gunships does not appear to have been brought down by hostile fire.

Spokesman Dan Howard said Navy divers have examined the wreckage of the AH-1 Cobra, which was discovered in 130 feet of water Sunday, and "there is no sign of battle damage."

The helicopter disappeared April 19 while on patrol duty. The wreckage was found about 15 miles southeast of Abu Musa, an island in the gulf's shipping channel that has served as a launching point for Iranian attacks.

The divers who examined the wreckage recovered the bodies of the crew, Marine Capts. Stephen C. Leslie of New Bern, N.C., and Kenneth W. Hill of Thomasville, N.C. The remains are to be returned to the United States soon, although exact arrangements are not complete, officials said.

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