Western Europe expected US retaliation

Expected. Well-conceived. Even a bit ho-hum. European analysts used these words to describe Washington's airborne thrust yesterday against two Iranian oil platforms in the Persian Gulf. The United States needed to respond to the Iranian attack Friday against a US-flagged tanker to retain credibility, the Europeans believed.

``Some action certainly seemed necessary and this one seems to be cautious, carefully thought out,'' remarked Col. Andrew Duncan, of the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies. ``The targets are in international waters, not Iranian, away from the volatile north of the Gulf, and there wasn't an enormous blitzkrieg attack,'' he said.

This European tranquillity is expressed at the same time as a growing hysteria about world financial problems. French, English, and German newspapers headlined the Wall Street plummet while hiding stories inside about the Gulf.

European leaders and policymakers have other pressing engagements. British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher has been in Canada attending a Commonwealth meeting, while French President Francois Mitterrand is in Bonn discussing plans to enlarge European defense efforts with West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl.

``The French and Germans are involved with their own European problems, and the stock market crisis is such a big event,'' says Dominique Moisi, Director of the French Institute of Foreign Relations. ``In comparison, the Gulf seems so far away.''

But when the Europeans do think about the Gulf, their analysis mirrors Washington's: Iran is a terrorist state that must be punished.

``There's a widespread feeling that Iran has gone too far; that it is a dangerous state which refuses to end the war with Iraq,'' said Mr. Moisi. ``European public opinion likes anything which hurts the Iranians. European governments agree, but with a little more nuance.''

This nuance means that the governments probably will not make ringing statements of support for the US action. As of press time, Foreign Offices throughout West Europe offered no official reaction.

The Soviet Union, however, Monday criticized the US attack on Iranian oil platforms as an unjustified ``act of armed aggression'' against Iran, the official Tass news agency reported. But privately, diplomats emphasized that there would be no alliance crisis as when the US bombed Libya.

That time, Washington asked its allies for permission to overfly European airspace. This time, Washington needed no such help.

``We did not receive any request for assistance,'' said one French diplomat. The US took a national action. The Iranians attacked an American tanker, not a French one.''

Steps leading to US attack May 21. US Coast Guard issues waivers of US maritime law to allow speedy reflagging of Kuwaiti tankers under US colors. May 29. Pentagon officials report major US military buildup in Gulf. June 16. Maritime executives say Iran is mining the Gulf. June 30. President Reagan, unswayed by objections from congressional leaders, says US will proceed with plans to escort Gulf tankers. July 9. Iranian gunboat sets US-flagged tanker on fire with rocket-propelled grenades. July 18-20. Reflagging of 11 Kuwaiti petroleum and natural gas tankers begins. July 24. Reflagged supertanker Bridgeton hits a mine near Farsi island. Aug. 20. Iran admits sowing mines to ``defend our coastline.'' Aug. 26. Pentagon grants ``danger pay'' supplements to 10,000 personnel in Gulf. Sept. 21. US helicopter attacks Iranian ship found to be laying mines. Oct. 8. US helicopter gunships sink three Iranian patrol boats after an American observation helicopter is fired on. Oct. 15. American-owned tanker attacked by Iranian missile believed to be a Silkworm. It sustained minor damage. Oct. 16. Iranian Silkworm missile hits reflagged tanker Sea Isle City in Kuwaiti waters. Oct. 19. US warships destroy Iran's Rostam oil platforms in retaliation for Sea Isle City hit.

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