PARIS, JULY 26 -- France put an aircraft carrier and three support ships on alert today for a possible swift dispatch to the Persian Gulf, the Defense Ministry announced, as France resumed its tense confrontation with Iran.

The alert, which followed the departure of a French patrol boat to the gulf region on Friday, seemed to signal a hardening in the standoff between Paris and Tehran over an Iranian Embassy official wanted for questioning about terrorist bombings here last fall.

The Defense Ministry said orders for departure within 24 hours went out today to the aircraft carrier Clemenceau, which carries about 40 warplanes and is accompanied by two missile frigates.

Foreign Minister Jean-Bernard Raimond said in an interview published yesterday that France "will take the necessary measures" if French ships are attacked again by Iranian gunboats in the gulf. France blamed Iran for the July 13 attack on the container ship Ville d'Anvers, which was hit by machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

"These will not be measures of weakness," Raimond added.

His comments were consistent with the position of Prime Minister Jacques Chirac's government not to provide military escorts for French-flag merchant ships or to join a U.S. naval operation in the gulf. The Sea Secretariat announced, however, that French warships in the region may "accompany" French merchant ships as decided on a case-by-case basis.

The government last week warned French merchant vessels to stay out of the gulf. Raimond did not specifically say in the interview whether France would retaliate if French ships are attacked in the gulf.

"Our commercial vessels are not escorted, but we have warships in the Indian Ocean that regularly enter the gulf and whose mission could be to go to the assistance of a boat that is attacked," Raimond said when asked to explain the ambiguity.

France, which has a naval base at Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, has operated ships in the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf area as part of its regular military deployment there, but dispatch of the carrier group would mark a significant increase in French naval presence.

The ministry announcement said the alert left open the possibility that the ships would be told to stay in the Mediterranean. But he said the alert was "justified by the international situation in the Middle East, in particular in Lebanon and in the gulf." New threats against French hostages held in Lebanon by pro-Iranian groups have coincided with the recent rise in tensions.

{In Bonn, Franz Josef Strauss, the leader of the right-wing Christian Social Union and a political ally of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, suggested in a newspaper interview that Germany send a warship to the gulf.

Strauss said the move would be a "symbolic demonstration of the ties with the Americans, Britons and French, who are protecting an important sea route," Reuter reported.

{Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Qe Huaiyuan, meanwhile, said in Kuwait that Beijing is seriously considering a Kuwaiti request to charter Chinese oil tankers, The Associated Press reported.}

The French alert and its announcement appeared to be a gesture of resolve aimed at Iran. Press reports here have portrayed officials in Chirac's government as increasingly convinced that Iran played at least an indirect role in last fall's terrorist bombings that killed a dozen people and wounded more than 150.

An investigating magistrate's summons to an Iranian Embassy official for questioning about these bombings set off the crisis between the two countries, which broke relations July 17. The official, Wahid Gordji, has been holed up inside the embassy for eight weeks.

Magistrate Gilles Boulouque indicted two Lebanese men yesterday on charges connected to the bombings. One of the two, Mohammed Mussawi, reportedly had worked at the Iranian Embassy and was in direct contact with Gordji.

Tensions also were raised here by the killing of a Frenchman on Friday during an airline hijacking in Geneva. The hijacking had no known connection to the French-Iranian crisis, but the hijacker identified himself as a Lebanese and referred to the French role in the Middle East during negotiations with the control tower.

Iran has refused to allow Gordji to submit to Boulouque's questioning, insisting he has diplomatic immunity. But France has said he has only an official passport and he does not have immunity as defined by the Vienna Convention on diplomatic practice.

Both the Iranian Embassy in Paris and French Embassy in Tehran are surrounded by security forces, and their envoys have been prevented from leaving.

Iranian authorities have accused a French diplomat, consul Jean-Paul Torri, of trafficking in drugs and conducting espionage, demanding he report to an Islamic court to answer the charges.

French officials explained that Torri's case is different from Gordji's because Torri has diplomatic immunity.

The standoff has created fears of a hostage crisis in Tehran similar to that faced by the Carter administration in 1979 and 1980.

More than 20 diplomats are stranded in the French Embassy.