KUWAIT, OCT. 20 -- Kuwait, in its first public reference to the U.S. retaliatory shelling of an Iranian oil platform yesterday, said today that the U.S. military action came only after Iran had been warned repeatedly by the international community to end its attacks on neutral countries and their shipping lanes.
A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry said, "Kuwait continues to express its concern and unhappiness over the aggravation of tension in the . . . gulf."
A Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as having catalogued Iran's "aggressive acts" in recent months and concluding, "The limited military step came as an answer to Iran's continuation of these practices."
Kuwait's statement was welcomed in western diplomatic circles, where this country has been seen as harming its image in the United States through lack of support for the U.S. military presence deployed here to protect Kuwaiti oil tankers under the American flag.
Some western officials noted that the statement followed reiteration by the defense minister that Kuwait would not allow basing facilities for the U.S. fleet, "no matter what the circumstances."
The defense minister's remarks, published after the United States retaliated for Iran's Silkworm missile strike on two oil tankers in Kuwait's oil port, "didn't help their cause," one western official said.
The Foreign Ministry statement was issued as authoritative reports circulated in governmental circles that six to eight rounds of artillery shells were fired into Kuwait's northern desert in the first hour this morning from the direction of the Iran-Iraq war front.
The shells landed harmlessly near Kuwait Petroleum Co.'s Um al Aish oil field, according to the sources. It was assumed that the artillery was fired by Iranian gunners, but the target was less clear. Iran fired artillery rounds onto Kuwaiti territory earlier this year as part of what western officials have described as a campaign of harassment and intimidation.
In Tehran today, parliamentary speaker Hojatoleslam Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Iran's military forces would respond "in the coming days" to the U.S. naval attack on the Rostam oil platforms.
"We have said we will not let any aggression go unanswered," Rafsanjani was quoted by Iran's state news agency. "This is not a threat but a reality." Oil Minister Gholamreza Aqazadeh said the U.S. attack caused $500 million worth of damage and created a pollution hazard in the lower gulf.
Aqazadeh said a number of unidentified oil company workers were injured in the attack, two of them seriously, and that Iran would petition for U.S. reparations for the destruction of the platforms.
In Moscow, Reuter news service reported, Soviet spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov described the object of the U.S. attack as "civilian targets belonging to a sovereign state," and said, "The U.S. actions are unacceptable from the point of view of international law, politics and morality."
"The reasons for the escalation lie not only in the continuation of the war between Iran and Iraq but in the expanding presence and interference of the United States in the affairs of the region," Gerasimov said.
Asked if the gulf developments might affect talks between Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and Secretary of State George P. Shultz, scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Moscow to prepare for a summit, Gerasimov replied:
"They will be discussing regional conflicts also. It is likely to be discussed in that context."
In the gulf waters today, an Iranian shuttle tanker, the Kark III, reported spotting a floating mine in the "exclusion zone" shipping lanes Iran uses to transport its oil to the lower gulf for export. Another susepcted mine was sighted off Qatar.
Staff writer Molly Moore added from Washington:
Pentagon spokesman Fred S. Hoffman described the gulf as "really quite quiet" Tuesday, saying U.S. officials have detected "no Iranian military action that could be interpreted as a response."
Hoffman said some U.S. military forces have remained in the area of Monday's attacks on the Iranian military platforms.
Hoffman said that two Iranian F4 fighters were launched from Iran during the attack. He said one of the planes "orbited in the locality" but made no threatening moves. The second craft flew in a direction away from the attack location after takeoff, Hoffman said.
Pentagon officials said Monday that initial reports indicated one Iranian plane had taken off during the attack.
The U.S. Navy began escorting its 12th convoy of reflagged Kuwaiti tankers at 2:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday, according to Pentagon officials. The convoy formed in international waters off Kuwait.
The guided-missile frigate USS Ford is providing protection for the product carrier Ocean City and the liquified-petroleum tanker Gas King, officials said. The convoy was "progressing uneventfully," according to a Pentagon statement.