Navy to Begin Escorting Kuwaiti Tankers July 22

Times Staff Writers

U.S. Navy vessels will begin protecting Kuwaiti oil tankers in the Persian Gulf on July 22, Adm. William J. Crowe Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told House and Senate leaders Tuesday.

Crowe disclosed the information in a Capitol Hill briefing, House Armed Services Committee Les Aspin (D-Wis.), who attended the meeting, said. He quoted Crowe as saying that the first Kuwaiti ship will be escorted next week, a second will be escorted Aug. 6 and three more will receive U.S. protection later in the same month, .

The Administration has decided to go slowly with the plan for “operational reasons,” Aspin said. He added that White House officials did not say when Kuwait’s remaining six tankers would receive U.S. protection.


Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, Secretary of State George P. Shultz and National Security Adviser Frank C. Carlucci also attended the meeting.

The timing of the operation has become a key issue in recent weeks as members of Congress have sought to delay the escorts, which the Administration says are designed to underscore its commitment to keeping open international shipping lanes in the gulf. Many fear for the safety of U.S. servicemen in the region, where Iran and Iraq have been at war for almost seven years, and where 37 U.S. sailors were killed in May when a U.S. frigate, the Stark, was attacked by an Iraqi jet.

Although no specific date had been set for the operation, which was originally scheduled to begin in June, it had been delayed several times. Administration officials have attributed the postponements to military preparations and the time-consuming process of re-registering the Kuwaiti vessels under the American flag.

Kuwait, which has backed Iraq financially and militarily, sought the protection for its tankers last winter in the face of Iranian attacks on its shipping in the gulf and reported Iranian efforts to mine Kuwaiti waters.

White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater, addressing another factor in the escort plan, told reporters Tuesday that the United States had received “final approval” from Saudi Arabia for its assistance in providing aerial reconnaissance from airborne warning and control system(AWACS) aircraft, operated jointly by U.S. and Saudi crews.

In addition, Fitzwater said, the United States received new, unspecified commitments of support from the United Arab Emirates, another Persian Gulf state. The Administration, facing opposition in Congress over the escort plan, had sought indications from allies in the region to demonstrate support for the operation.


Resolutions to End War

Fitzwater also said the Administration is optimistic that the U.N. Security Council will approve two resolutions intended to halt the Iran-Iraq War. The two warring nations have attacked shipping since 1984.

The U.N. resolutions could be taken up by the Security Council as early as today, but Fitzwater and State Department spokesman Charles Redman indicated that the issue may not be discussed until next week. However, the Administration has acknowledged that such U.N. measures have frequently failed in the past to bring peace to warring nations.

The first resolution to be taken up would order a cease-fire between Iran and Iraq. The second would impose sanctions on any country that does not comply with the cease-fire, a step intended to stem to flow of arms to the two warring nations.

China and North Korea are believed to be the major suppliers of weapons to Iran. Iraq is believed to be receiving the bulk of its weapons from France and the Soviet Union.

Because China, France and the Soviet Union are members of the Security Council, their support for such a resolution would indicate they are willing to halt the flow of weapons to the two countries.

Meanwhile, Pentagon spokesman Robert B. Sims said the United States would not alert Iran to each movement of a Kuwaiti tanker, or convoy of tankers, through the narrow Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Iranian guns and Silkworm missiles, based on the shores of the strait, could reach the tankers and the escorting warships.


“We have advised the Iranians in general terms that we are planning this escort mission and why we are doing it, so that they have full knowledge of the fact,” Sims told reporters. “But we are not planning to advise anyone in advance of our transits through international waters. There is no need for that and we don’t plan to do it.”

In Congress, members of the House and Senate have expressed concern that the escort operation could drag the United States into the Persian Gulf War.

The House approved a non-binding resolution last week asking the Administration to delay the policy for 90 days. In the Senate, however, Democrats failed for the third time Tuesday to force a vote on a non-binding resolution that urges the Administration to delay the protection operation.