Iran's tit-for-tat blockade plan

Iran, trying to defuse escalating pressure over the US Embassy hostage crisis , says it will find a way to stop all oil shipments through the Gulf if the United States blockades its ports.

Yet, whether by military or diplomatic means, that seems easier threatened than done.

Even Iranian Foreign Minister Sadeq Ghotbzadeh, who made the threat in com ments to US television reporters April 24, seems to sense the complications in any military move to close the free world's main oil supply lane. He was quoted as saying there were "better" ways to achieve that aim.

The "better" ways are presumably diplomatic, to be explored on his forthcom ing tour of Arab countries.

The idea seems to be for Mr. Ghotbzadeh to persuade his Arab neighbors to cut off Gulf oil shipments -- 60 percent of the free world's imports -- voluntarily.

The fear of precisely this kind of anti-American polarization was one deterrent to tough US action against Iran early in the hostage crisis, American officials suggested at the time.

Indeed, even moderate Arab states remain reluctant to side openly with the US , especially in light of President Carter's apparently inability to win concessions from Israel on Middle East peace.

But as months passed, regional opposition to the hostage-holding and suspicion of Iran's desire to export revolution have seemed to harden.

A preliminary sounding of Arab diplomats April 24 suggested Mr. Ghotbzadeh would have a hard time getting Arab states to wield their "oil weapon" against Washington over the Tehran hostages.

Iraq, which is waging a war of words -- and occasionaly bullets and rockets -- with the neighboring Iranians, has laid claim to three disputed islands at the Gulf's southern gateway.

Should Iran try to seal the Gulf militarily, Western analysts argue, a stronger Iraq might well grab the islands even before Washington moved to retaliate against Tehran.

Both local and Western analysts doubted Iran would try forcibly to close the Gulf, almost surely risking war.

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