U.S. Drops Plan for Coast Guard Patrol in Gulf
The Pentagon, facing stiff congressional opposition, Monday dropped its plan to dispatch six Coast Guard cutters to join the Navy fleet patrolling the Persian Gulf.
“The Department of Defense is no longer considering sending Coast Guard vessels to the Persian Gulf at this time,” the Pentagon said in a statement.
At the same time, the White House announced that President Reagan will meet with Kuwait’s prime minister and crown prince, Sheik Saad al Abdullah al Sabah, in July. The main item on their agenda will be the threats to the small Persian Gulf state’s security raised by the eight-year-old Iran-Iraq War, officials said.
Lacks Detailed Agenda
A White House statement said the prime minister has accepted Reagan’s invitation to visit Washington July 10-14, his first official visit to the United States. The statement said the two leaders will meet July 12, but it did not provide a detailed agenda.
Last July, the Administration agreed to Kuwait’s request to reflag 11 Kuwaiti oil tankers as American vessels and provide them with Navy protection from Iranian attacks. Kuwait is a target of Iran because it is siding with Iraq in the gulf war.
In discussions with Reagan and other Administration officials, the Kuwaiti leader likely will press his country’s requests for additional U.S. military equipment to strengthen Kuwait’s defenses against Iranian sea, air and missile strikes.
The Administration plan to send the high-speed Coast Guard patrol boats to the gulf was broached by Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci two weeks ago after a day of intense clashes between the U.S. Navy and Iranian ships and aircraft.
Carlucci said the lightly armed boats would be used to protect against Iranian gunboats that have carried out numerous hit-and-run attacks on merchant shipping in the gulf.
Plan Draws Opposition
The plan was immediately opposed by members of Congress of both parties who said the boats were ill-equipped for war duty in the gulf and were needed for domestic anti-drug efforts.
“After a thorough assessment during the past week, it has been decided that the current strength and force mix of our task force in the gulf is sufficient to protect U.S. interests in the region and to defend against threats to the rights of U.S.-flagged ships, as well as neutral ships in distress requesting assistance in international waters of the gulf,” the Pentagon statement said.
The United States has 27 ships in and near the gulf to protect the Kuwaiti tankers and other U.S.-flag shipping. Last week, the Administration broadened the fleet’s mission to include helping any neutral ship that comes under attack from Iran or Iraq.
Congressmen Take Credit
Reps. Mike Lowry (D-Wash.) and Claude Pepper (D-Fla.) told a news conference Monday that the decision against dispatching Coast Guard cutters was a direct result of their efforts to pass legislation prohibiting the use of such vessels in the Persian Gulf. The two congressmen opposed it on the grounds it would cripple Coast Guard efforts to combat drug trafficking.
Pepper and Lowry had planned to offer an amendment to the defense spending bill now being considered in the House that would have outlawed using the Coast Guard in the gulf. As a result of the Pentagon’s decision, they said, the amendment will be withdrawn when it is scheduled to be discussed on the House floor today.
“This is a victory for drug enforcement,” Pepper said. “If they need cutters in the gulf, how about letting the British or the French do it? Our cutters are busy.”
Staff writer Sara Fritz contributed to this story.