The position of Sen John Glenn (D-Ohio) on a possible preemptive strike by the United States against Silkworm missiles if they are deployed in Iran was incorrectly reported Sunday. Glenn opposes a preemptive strike, his spokesman said. (Published 6/9/87)
ROME, JUNE 6 -- National security adviser Frank C. Carlucci, rejecting a Chinese denial, said today the United States believes that Iran already has about 20 Chinese-built Silkworm antiship missiles and may eventually have twice that many.
The reported arrival in Iran of the missiles, which have a 50-mile range, has taken on added importance in recent weeks after agreements by Washington and Moscow to reflag and escort Kuwaiti oil tankers, and the apparently accidental attack by an Iraqi jet on the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf.
Carlucci said that China had responded to a U.S. protest over the sale of Silkworm missiles to Iran by denying that it had furnished the weapons.
"The Chinese say they're not doing it," Carlucci told reporters following President Reagan's visit with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. Carlucci made it clear that the United States does not believe the Chinese denials.
The missiles "are coming from China," he said.
Carlucci said the United States believes the Iranians have more than 20 HY2 Silkworm missiles and the total "package," apparently a reference to the final number to be delivered, "is at least twice that size."
China has repeatedly denied supplying arms to Iran despite widespread reports that it has become one of Tehran's chief sources of heavy weaponry. During a visit to Beijing in March, Secretary of State George P. Shultz urged China's leaders, including Deng Xiaoping, to stop the arms shipments, but they refused to acknowledge that any Chinese weapons were being sent to Iran.
The Washington Post quoted U.S. sources this week as saying the Reagan administration is debating whether to strike preemptively against the Silkworms if they are deployed against shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. The sources said U.S. intelligence agencies now estimate that some of the antiship missiles could be operational as early as July 1.
The sources said options range from a preemptive strike to waiting until a ship flying the U.S. flag is threatened by one of the missiles.
The administration is moving ahead with plans to reflag 11 Kuwaiti oil tankers as American ships, and the sources said these vessels and their American naval escorts could be targets for the Silkworm missiles. Kuwait has lent financial support to Iraq in its seven-year war against Iran and a number of Kuwaiti oil tankers have been hit in the so-called "tanker war" in the gulf in the past three years. Carlucci has said previously that the United States is prepared to defend the fleet against these missiles.
Earlier today, White House chief of staff Howard H. Baker Jr., asked about the Silkworm missiles, told reporters on Air Force One, "It's called the Orkin strategy," apparently referring to the exterminating company. Communications director Tom Griscom said Baker was joking.
Carlucci said, "I don't think it does any good for anybody to speculate on military options at this point. We are not threatening anybody in the gulf. What we are doing is escorting U.S. flag vessels. We do not think it would behoove anybody to attack our vessels. They are prepared to defend themselves, and it doesn't serve any purpose to speculate on military options."
Told by reporters that Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) and Sen. John Glenn (D-Ohio) had endorsed the idea of a strike, Carlucci said, "They're certainly entitled to express their views. But it wouldn't be appropriate for those of us in the executive branch to."
Carlucci said the missiles are "getting operational," but he had "no idea" when they would be ready to deploy.
"It's not a process one can observe," he said. "They're doing some work on the side, but we have no idea what their plans are."
The attack on the USS Stark May 17 by an Exocet missile fired by an Iraqi jet has raised the stakes for the U.S. naval presence in the gulf, but Reagan has decided to move ahead with the reflagging effort. The Silkworm is said to have a warhead with the explosive power of 1,100 pounds of TNT, while the warhead that disabled the Stark had the power of 350 pounds of TNT.
Reagan is expected to bring up the issue of protecting navigation in the war-torn Persian Gulf region when he meets with the leaders of the leading industrialized democracies at the summit beginning Monday in Venice.