Spokesmen for the governments of Britain, France and Italy denied yesterday that their navies had worked out a multiple arrangement to sweep mines from the Persian Gulf as reported in The Washington Post on Sunday. But in Washington, military planners with access to arrangements for future deployment of mine sweepers in the gulf reconfirmed that such a plan had been made and had been scheduled to be implemented next month.
A British government spokesman said the story "mystified us. It's not true, I'm afraid. . . . There has been no coordination of an organized kind" with the French and Italians, Washington Post correspondent Karen DeYoung reported from London.
A French naval spokesman said, "There is no agreement. The French Navy is acting for national interests."
In Rome, an Italian Navy Ministry spokesman said, "There has been no agreement. The report has taken us by surprise. We cannot understand where it came from."
U.S. military officials who have been briefed on the mine-sweeping plan said it calls for Britain, France and Italy to contribute mine sweepers to a multiple task force totaling five ships. The command of the five-ship force would be rotated among the three navies at regular intervals, they said.
The multiple approach, these officials said, is designed to reduce the number of ships each of the three countries would have to keep on mine-sweeping duty in the gulf and allow them reduce the navy staffs by having one combined command.
The British government approved the multiple mine-sweeping approach last Thursday, according to U.S. officials involved with gulf military operations.