The United States ambassador to the Gulf state of Bahrain says that Iran should be given until Sept. 1 to accept United Nations peacekeeping efforts in the Iran-Iraq war or face a mandatory worldwide arms embargo. Ambassador Sam Zakhem also said in an interview that the US was prepared to stand up to Iran to protect the conservative Arab states of the Gulf from Iranian interference.
His comments came as Arab foreign ministers met in Tunis this week to discuss a possible unified Arab response to Iranian threats and Iranian reluctance to accept a UN cease-fire call.
``If Iran refuses by Sept. 1, I think the apparatus should be put in motion to pass a mandatory sanctions resolution,'' says Mr. Zakhem. He adds he is hopeful that a UN Security Council arms embargo against Iran can bring an end to the seven-year-old Gulf war. ``The war in time will burn itself out'' if an embargo is adopted and effectively policed, he says.
The ambassador, a former Colorado state senator appointed a year ago by President Reagan, participated in the development of the Reagan administration's post-Irangate Gulf policy, which is aimed at reassuring the ruling leaders of the Arab Gulf states of US resolve to protect them from Iran by military force if necessary.
The US presence here, including the growing armada of 41 ships and the 20,000 American servicemen soon to be stationed in the region, is being called by military analysts the largest concentration of US military might since Vietnam.
``We are capable of defending our friends, and more important, we have the determination and the guts to do so,'' Zakhem says. ``I think our [military] presence here is a long-term proposal.''
The US has no desire to interfere in the internal matters of Iran or any state in the region, the ambassador says. But he stressed that the US would not permit Iran to ``meddle'' in the affairs of US friends in the Gulf.
Iran has repeatedly announced its intention to spread its Islamic revolution to neighboring states by appealing to sympathetic Shiite Muslims. Most recently, Iran has called on Muslims to ``uproot'' the ruling Al-Saud family in Saudi Arabia in retaliation for the tragic riots in Mecca last month. Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini personally repeated that call Sunday, in a move apparently timed to coincide with anti-Iranian statements made by Saudi and other delegates at the Arab League meeting in Tunis.
In the past, Iran has also threatened to broaden its war efforts against Iraq to include sabotage and other attacks on Iraq's allies, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Last week, Saudi technicians were forced to shut down a huge gas plant following two explosions that the Saudis said were caused by a ``power surge.'' But diplomats and other Gulf analysts speculate it may have been sabotage.
An anti-Saudi group in Beirut, Hizbullah of the Arabian Peninsula has claimed responsibility for the blasts. Iran's charg'e d'affaires here says the group ``may'' have links with Iran. ``If they want any help from the Islamic Republic, absolutely the Islamic Republic would help.''
So far, the US role in the region in confronting and containing Iran has been limited to highly symbolic US Navy escort missions protecting reflagged Kuwaiti tankers from threatened Iranian attack.
The US Navy and other ships in the Gulf have been plagued by mines thought planted by Iran. But the US and Iran have so far avoided a direct military confrontation, though there have been several close calls. Yesterday, an Iranian patrol boat ignored US warnings and steamed within a mile of the US convoy of tankers and warships in the southern Gulf. The Americans manned their battle stations, but no shots were fired and the Iranian ship continued on its way.
Some Gulf analysts suggest the US should broaden its efforts in the region and focus on nonmilitary means of countering Iran's ideological attraction in the Gulf's poorer Shiite neighborhoods.
Zakhem declined to discuss specifically how the US might counter Iranian efforts in Bahrain or other Gulf states. But he said the issue of the Shiite communities and their possible loyalty to Iran was exaggerated.
``The strong presence of America (in the Gulf) will be conducive to peace,'' the ambassador said, ``because the Iranians know that we mean business.'' He added, ``Iran has always respected and understood the meaning of force, and in some ways feared force. And force is what we have in this region - plenty of it.''
The ambassador emphasized that he didn't mean his statement as a direct threat to Iran, but only as an indication of US resolve to protect its interests and friends in the region.
Meanwhile, Iranian President Ali Khameini was quoted yesterday by the Iranian news agency as saying that US forces in the area were ``paper tigers.''
``If a war breaks out between Iran and the US in the Persian Gulf, ... Iran will deal shattering blows on American forces,'' Mr. Khameini was quoted as saying.
Zakhem says eventually US-Iranian ties must improve. ``We would like to see an Iran that improves and builds. An Iran that uses its resources for the good of its people rather than to wage war. We would like to see an Iran that would not meddle in the affairs of its neighbors.''
He adds, ``We are cognizant of the constructive role that Iran is capable of playing in keeping the Gulf safe, and free from communist domination.''