Arab states in the Persian Gulf have agreed to provide more logistical support for U.S. naval forces escorting Kuwaiti tankers, Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said.
A team of U.S. experts in the gulf continued to evaluate the threat from mines reportedly laid in the approaches to Kuwaiti ports, Pentagon officials said. Sources said it was feared that Iran might launch terrorist strikes against U.S. ships, facilities or citizens elsewhere in the region.Mr. Weinberger, appearing at a White House news conference Wednesday, said Saudi Arabia, Ku wait and Oman had agreed to help U.S. efforts to protect gulf shipping. However, he and other Pentagon officials declined to spell out the extent of the assistance.
Many members of Congress have criticized the gulf Arab states for not offering the United States more help in defending 11 Kuwaiti tankers that the Reagan administration has allowed to fly the U.S. flag.
"We're getting quite a lot" of assistance, said Mr. Weinberger, countering the criticism. Saudi Arabia, he said, would expand coverage of the gulf by its Airborne Warning and Surveillance Aircraft Systems planes (AWACS); Kuwait would supply fuel, and Oman would provide "additional access rights."
Additionally, said Mr. Weinberger, French and British naval vessels continue to escort their flag ships in and out of the gulf.
Defense Department spokesman Robert Sims, briefing reporters after Mr. Weinberger spoke, declined to provide details beyond the secretary's sketchy remarks.
"Obviously, Kuwait has an interest in the success of our mission," Mr.
Sims said. "And I don't know why anyone would think that Kuwait would not cooperate in ensuring that ships that they asked to be reflagged get to their port and from their port."
A team of about 20 U.S. experts was in the Kuwait area trying to determine the nature and origin of mines found in the shipping lanes. It was not clear whether the mines drifted into the area or were laid by Iran, according to Pentagon sources who spoke on condition of not being identified.
"This is not a new kind of military threat and both we and other countries in and out of the region have mine and counter-mine capabilities," Mr. Sims said. The United States and Kuwait have minesweeping ships or helicopters, he said, and "there is no reason why Saudi Arabia couldn't acquire some minesweeping capability."
Although the Iranian navy has become badly depleted since the revolution that brought Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to power in 1979, small boats operated by the regime's Revolutionary Guards could lay mines or launch suicide attacks, said Pentagon sources.