Administration officials said yesterday that the United States is prepared to share air defense information gathered by U.S. radar planes in Saudi Arabia with some other nations in the Persian Gulf but that there are no current plans to ship air defense weapons or additional radar equipment into the region.
The United States has had four surveillance planes operating in Saudi Arabia for the past week in an effort to provide the Saudis with warning of an air attack should the Iran-Iraq war expand. Now, the United States is said to be letting neighboring governments in Kuwait, Oman and the United Arab Emirates know that it is willing to share that information.
Without naming any specific countries, State Department spokesman John Trattner said yesterday that the U.S. offer is not a breach of the administration's avowed policy of neutrality and that it was in keeping with the public offer made Tuesday by Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher of U.S. help for "friendly, nonbelligerent" countries in the region.
In that speech, Christopher said the United States "would respond to requests for assistance." But officials at both the State and defense departments said there had been no request so far for this radar information. Thus, this latest administration move seems assuring to other countries in the area about American concern and willingness to help.
Sources said it would not be necessary at this time to send additional radar planes or ground radar stations to the region, though it probably would be necessary to get overflight rights from countries such as the UAE to allow the planes already there to roam further around the region where the bulk of the West's oil comes from. With additional overflight rights, the planes would have the range to watch the entire Gulf region.
The principal fear here and in the region is that if the war gets further out of hand and Iran is faced with a humiliating defeat, there could be some irrational "lash-out" by Tehran at other countries or oil facilities in the region. Sources say Iranian reconnaissance planes flew over Kuwait in recent days, but appear to be trying to find any Iraq planes that might have been based there, rather than intending to attack targets in Kuwait.
It is also said that there have been internal discussions in the U.S. government, in connection with the original decision to send the radar planes to Saudi Arabia, about what would happen if the Saudis faced some dire military threat. In that case, officials said, it would probably be recommended to the president that U.S. F15 fighters be sent to aid the Saudis.
Trattner said yesterday that there was no sign of any major Soviet resupply of Iraq under way but that Soviet broadcasts into the region charging U.S. incitement of the war are "unhelpful, inflammatory and untrue." Other sources said yesterday that Turkey had told the Soviets that they would not allow any increase in existing overflight of Turkish airspace, which officials here welcomed as a measure to insure that additional Soviet supplies didn't reach Iraq by air.
Cargo destined for Iraq has been sighted in the Jordanian Red Sea port of Aqaba, but Trattner said he was unable to confirm Israeli reports that this cargo included Soviet munitions. Other sources said the ships were not Russians, though the registry and the cargo was not clear.
Officials said that shipments via truck from Jordan to Iraq thus far seem to be mostly medical supplies and building materials rather than munitions.
While Iraqi military stockpiles were in good shape before the war began, Iran is the one running short of both fuel and munitions. Officials confirmed that Iran is getting some help from North Korea, with the Koreans apparently anxious for payment in western currencies that Tehran still has. Sources say three Iranian 747 jetliners have brought supplies and probably some munitions from North Korea. The Iranians have large quantities of Soviet-built artillery which can use munitions manufactured in Korea.
The Israeli concern about Jordan's involvement in the conflict was made clear yesterday by Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ephriam Evron, who met separately here with Vice President Mondale, Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and National Security Affairs Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski.
Israeli Embassy sources said Evron stressed that Jordan's overt role in support of Iraq could pose "a great potential danger" to Israeli security. The Israelis have long feared the rise of a military strong and hostile Iraq and Muskie reportedly told Evron that he shares the ambassador's concern about the potential effects of the Jordanian role.
Other U.S. officials yesterday tended to play down the Jordanian actions, suggesting they were not particularly important to Iraq's war effort. a
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary G. William Miller said yesterday that the Persian Gulf war "could be very damaging" to the West in terms of energy supplies if it turns out to be a prolonged conflict. But, for the time being, he said, world oil supplies appear to be sufficient.