Iranian President Ali Khamenei, in a long and vitriolic speech to the U.N. General Assembly, threatened Tuesday to retaliate for the U.S. attack on what he said was an unarmed Iranian freighter by striking at U.S. interests anywhere in the world.
"This is a beginning for a series of events, the bitter consequences of which shall not be restricted to the Persian Gulf, and the United States as the instigator of the trouble shall bear responsibility for all ensuing events," Khamenei said.
"I declare here very unequivocally that the United States shall receive a proper response for this abominable act."
'Pack of Lies'
Khamenei dismissed as "a pack of lies" the U.S. contention that the Iranian ship, the Iran Ajr, was laying mines Monday in international waters in the Persian Gulf when the U.S. military helicopters attacked it.
Although the United States displayed photographs showing mines on the deck of the Iran Ajr, Khamenei insisted that it was a commercial ship.
"Yesterday, U.S. battleships attacked Iran Ajr, an Iranian merchant ship," he said. "They murdered four and wounded three people. The ship has been seized and the crew detained." (The United States said three were killed and two are unaccounted for.)
In his one-hour-and-15-minute speech, the Iranian also left no doubt that Iran rejects the U.N. Security Council's recent resolution calling for a cease-fire in the seven-year-old Persian Gulf War.
After Khamenei's speech, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said the United States will "proceed with consultations" to drum up support on the U.N. Security Council for an arms embargo against Iran as the "intransigent party" in the war.
There was no indication, however, of when the United States will put the arms embargo before the 15-nation council. Although Shultz said he is optimistic that the measure would pass, Security Council sources said the outcome would be far from certain.
Iraq has announced that it will abide by the cease-fire if Iran will, and so the United States considers Iraq to be in compliance with the resolution.
Khamenei, an imposing figure with a bushy salt-and-pepper beard and a black turban over his hair, said Iran will never agree to a cease-fire because a truce would only allow Iraq to rebuild its military might and renew the war.
"The only guarantee for the future is the punishment of the aggressor," he said. He declared punishing Iraq to be Iran's highest priority.
Khamenei did not say how Iran plans to take revenge for the U.S. attack on the Iran Ajr, although his comments implied Iranian-backed terrorism aimed at American installations. U.S. officials said previously that intelligence reports showed Tehran was planning terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies, other diplomatic missions and military bases.
Asked about Khamenei's remarks, Shultz said: "They have made threats for quite some time. Of course, we must have our guard up and be on the alert, but we can't fail to do a thing that we must do because somebody throws threats around."
Shultz and Vernon A. Walters, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, boycotted Khamenei's speech. A lower-level U.S. delegation, led by Herbert S. Okun, Walters' assistant, sat through most of it, but when the Iranian president began his explanation of the Persian Gulf incident, Okun led the American contingent out of the hall.
Okun said later: "The false accusations that he made against our country distort the facts and totally misrepresent our policy. I do not intend to sit by passively when our country is insulted, our President is pilloried and the truth is trampled."
Singer Pearl Bailey, a member of the U.S. delegation, was among those who left. She said later it was her first walkout, and "my feet are killing me."
The Iraqi delegation boycotted the speech from the start, and Saudi Arabia walked out after Khamenei called the Saudis "American stooges." Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze did not attend, and Moscow was represented by low-level officials.
The United States said weeks ago that it was time for the Security Council to follow up its July 20 cease-fire resolution by imposing an arms embargo on Iran. But, faced with the reluctance of other Security Council members to take such a step, the United States has moved cautiously while maintaining the rhetorical pressure.
In his speech to the General Assembly on Monday, President Reagan said that unless Iran gives an unequivocal acceptance of the cease-fire, "the (Security) Council has no choice but rapidly to adopt enforcement measures."
After Khamenei heaped scorn on the Security Council and the resolution Tuesday, however, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said, "I don't have any way to put a deadline on that."
Khamenei accused the United States of using the Security Council to put pressure on Iran.
Moreover, he said, unless the major powers gave up their Security Council vetoes, the council "will remain, as it is today, a paper factory for issuing worthless and ineffective orders. And the peoples of the world will continue to think that there is no place for settling international problems and that the only option left is to use violence."
Geoffrey Howe, the British foreign secretary, said Khamenei's speech should make it easier to obtain Security Council approval of an arms embargo to enforce the cease-fire resolution.
"It is difficult to imagine a response in action and in words better calculated to provoke the next move, namely an arms embargo," Howe said.
For a resolution to pass, a majority vote in the 15-member council is required, but any of the five permanent members of the council--the United States, Britain, France, the Soviet Union and China--have veto power.
The Soviet Union and China have not said how they would vote on an arms embargo, but U.S. officials have said they are confident that Moscow and Beijing would either support the resolution or abstain.
When Khamenei rose to speak, a claque of supporters in the General Assembly gallery rose to chant "Allahu Akbar" or "God is great." Outside the U.N. building, about 1,500 supporters of the People's Moujahedeen, an organization engaged in an armed insurgency against the Iranian regime, protested his appearance.
"We reject and condemn the presence of Khamenei in the U.N.," said Mohammed Sadeghi, one of the protest organizers. "He does not in any way represent the people of Iran."
Later, about 700 supporters of the Iranian regime, mostly women with young children in baby carriages, marched near the United Nations.
"U.S. out of Persian Gulf," they chanted as police looked on and the procession tied up traffic.
Khamenei was the first Iranian official to address the United Nations since Mohammed Ali Rajai, then the prime minister, spoke to the General Assembly in 1980.