Several American international law experts agreed yesterday that the U.S. decision to unilaterally impose a Naval quarantine on Iraq is based on a correct legal reading of Article 51 of the United Nations charter, which permits any state under attack to protect itself through collective self-defense.

The U.S. bases its proposed Naval action on a request from the Kuwaiti government. "The U.S. position is certainly a correct reading of Article 51," said John Lawrence Hargrove, executive director of the American Society of International Law. Kuwait clearly has the right "to exercise necessary and proportionate self-defense under the charter," Hargrove said, and "states have a right to do in concert with other governments what they can lawfully do alone."

John Norton Moore, professor of international law at the University of Virginia, agreed. "If a nation that is attacked requests help, other nations are entitled to respond. There is no need to wait for further action by the Security Council. They can go ahead with a necessary and appropriate response until such time as the Security Council may give differing directions."

Hargrove added that "in political terms, it might have been wiser to seek a broad consensus for the U.S. action. But legally, it is a correct and proper interpretation of the charter."

Referring to criticism of the United States, Moore added, "It is a very bad precedent to attack defensive action as though it were the same as the aggression. Failing to make a distinction between the two can do great violence to the U.N.'s ability to help maintain order in the world."