MANAMA, BAHRAIN, SEPT. 25 -- Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger, protected by tight security, flew to the decks of American warships in the Persian Gulf today to praise the performance of their crews and to warn Iran that U.S. forces would not hesitate to attack again Iranian vessels caught laying mines in these waters.

Weinberger was cheered when he announced that the Navy would destroy an Iranian cargo vessel attacked and disabled Monday night by U.S. forces after they saw it laying mines in an anchorage used by U.S. Navy ships.

"We're going to destroy that ship," he said, according to accounts from a pool of reporters who accompanied him. "It certainly will not be handed back so that it can engage in further activities.

"And we're fully prepared," he continued, "to take the same kind of decisive and strong action that we did on this one -- fully prepared to take it again."

{The vessel, the Iran Ajr, was blown up and sunk in international waters early Saturday in the gulf, the Pentagon reported.}

Asked by one U.S. sailor if the Iranians were aware of the Navy's plans to sink the ship, Weinberger replied, "They will be very shortly. They'll see it when it goes up -- or down, I should say."

Weinberger made no reference to the three Iranians killed in the attack or the 26 Iranian survivors being held aboard U.S. ships.

{Pentagon sources said the 26 Iranian seamen will be flown by helicopter to Oman Saturday and turned over to Iranian custody.

{State Department sources said "no consideration" had been given to asking Iran to release Jon Pattis, a jailed Rockville, Md., telecommunications engineer, in return for the seamen. Pattis is serving a 10-year sentence on charges of spying for the CIA. "Nothing in common was seen" between his situation and that of the Iranians, a State Department source said after Pattis' sister, Ellen Pattis, asked about an exchange.}

Weinberger said the Navy's mine-hunting forces had located "eight or nine" mines in a rectangular field five by 10 miles in size northeast of here and had begun clearing operations.

Weinberger arrived at the fleet from Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, this morning and hopped by helicopter among three U.S. warships, the frigate Hawes, the command ship LaSalle and the helicopter carrier Guadalcanal, to inspect nine captured Iranian mines and to watch Navy Sea Stallion mine-sweeping helicopters in action.

"That's the biggest load of groceries I've ever seen," Weinberger said, as the captain of the LaSalle showed him the mines, in the cargo hold of the Middle East Force command ship.

Meeting with crewmen of the LaSalle, Weinberger criticized Iran for not admitting to the mine-laying. "They keep indulging in this pack of lies," he said. "They're still talking about this being groceries and foodstuffs and all that other nonsense."

He said Iran's mine warfare represented "crimes against international law and international waters," and told the crewmen that the Arab countries in the gulf "are basically very aware of what a danger Iran is to the civilized world."

At each stop in the fleet, Weinberger encouraged sailors to ask questions, prompting some to state grievances or bring up Navy personnel or pay issues.

"Why was our hazard pay taxed?" one sailor asked.

"Oh, that's not my department, that's the Treasury," Weinberger replied. "I don't think it should be and I'm going to tell the secretary of the treasury that you're all waiting to see him out here."

Responding to a question from one of six pool reporters who accompanied him on the inspection tour, he told the crewmen that he expected more assistance from Arab states in the region as they saw greater levels of U.S. determination and resolve to protect international shipping in the gulf.

"We're talking to a number of countries out here and we find that we get more help the less we talk about it," he said.

"The other Arab countries are basically very aware of what a danger Iran is to the civilized world and they are all for what we're doing and they're going to tell us that privately," he said.

He singled out Egypt and Saudi Arabia as having taken the strongest public stands in condemning Iran and supporting the U.S. presence in the Persian Gulf. He did not mention Bahrain, which provides naval facilities to the U.S. fleet but which seeks a low profile.

"I know that as far as the Saudis are concerned," he said, "they are very impressed by it and I think it will help a great deal in making up the minds of some of the countries along the shore here and in the gulf region that they can't get anything out of Iran by trying to be nice to them or trying to avoid condemning them."

As the U.N. Security Council delayed considering a U.S.-backed arms embargo against Iran, Weinberger did not hesitate to exert pressure in favor of the American position.

Referring to the gulf Arab states, he said, "What they need to do is break off relations and isolate them {Iran} and even more important than that, join in a true embargo."

Weinberger also lambasted Congress for cutting the defense budget and trying to impose a "war powers" restriction on the U.S. deployment in the region.

He expressed confidence that it was American resolve that persuaded U.S. allies to join American forces in the region. "When I wrote letters to the governments of our allied countries in NATO and elsewhere a few months ago," he said, "we couldn't find a single person first of all that would reply and secondly that would reply favorably."

"That's all reversed now," he said. He announced that Japan had agreed to provide "a very good navigation system" to aid in mine hunting in the gulf and U.S. officials here said West Germany had agreed to replace NATO forces in the North Atlantic diverted to Persian Gulf escort and mine-sweeping duties.

As Weinberger was addressing U.S. sailors, Iran's President Ali Khamenei was leading Friday prayers a few hundred miles away in Tehran. He said he had conferred with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who "instructed me to tell the masses that we shall not compromise in any way with global arrogance," Tehran radio reported. "We shall also reply to the evils of America in the Persian Gulf."

But Khameini did not close the door on U.N. efforts to find a peaceful solution to the seven-year-old war, according to the broadcast.