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IRAN PROTESTS U.S. FORCES BUT HONORS EMBARGO

IRAN PROTESTS U.S. FORCES BUT HONORS EMBARGO

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Millions of Iranians protested the U.S.-led forces in the Persian Gulf Friday with chants of ``Death to America!' and Iraq warned that war in the region would ravage other Arab states and Israel.

Abul Abbas, the Syrian-born head of the Palestine Liberation Front based in Baghdad, said his men will retaliate against American and other Western aircraft if any Iraqi planes are attacked under the air embargo approved Tuesday by the U.N. Security Council.The embargo does not call for armed action against aircraft, but threats from Abbas are taken seriously by Western counterterrorism services. Abbas is the Palestinian maverick who masterminded the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro.

In Washington, President Bush promised the exiled leader of Kuwait that his country will not remain under Iraqi control.

``Kuwait's sovereignty and territorial integrity will be restored,' Bush said after meeting with Sheik Jaber al-Ahmed al-Sabah. The White House meeting was intended as a sign that the United States still regards the emir as the legitimate ruler of Kuwait, which Iraq invaded Aug. 2.

A Bush aide said the graphic account of the Iraqi occupation that the exiled ruler gave Bush could lead the president to push for tougher U.N. action against Saddam Hussein, including U.N.-backed military action.

``That's one of those things that's conceivable,' said Brent Scowcroft, the president's national security adviser.

Al-Sabah described ``terrifying conditions' in Kuwait, including soldiers taking patients off life-support systems and removing babies from incubators so the equipment could be shipped back to Iraq, Scowcroft said.

Rep. Les Aspin, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he feels the administration ``is looking more favorably on an early war option.'

The Wisconsin Democrat said he based this assessment on four factors: the diminishing chances of Kuwait regaining its independence; cooler weather; Moslems' January pilgrimage to Mecca, which would make fighting then more difficult; and a more hawkish tone to Bush administration remarks.

Tehran radio, monitored in Nicosia, said millions of Iranians staged demonstrations nationwide, denouncing the United States and Israel.

``We have seen how they have defiled our sacred lands, the land of divine revelations, just as they did in Jerusalem, by bringing corruption, devastation, godlessness and debauchery to that hallowed region,' a reporter said in a live report from the Tehran rally.

Iran has condemned Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, but it also has deplored the U.S.-led forces sent to protect Saudi Arabia and enforce a U.N.-imposed embargo against Baghdad. But it says it is honoring the blockade.

The protests capped a week of celebrations marking the anniversary of the beginning of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. Iran sees cause for celebration because last month Baghdad caved in to its demands for peace, ending two years of deadlocked talks. Some observers say that in return Baghdad expects Iran to circumvent the embargo and deliver food to Iraq.

The commander of the American battle group patrolling outside the gulf said Friday he doubted that ships were evading it by hugging the Iranian coast.

``Personally I feel that we are being 100 percent effective,' said Rear Adm. Jerry Unruh. ``Iraq may be loading their ships with oil, but their ships are not coming out.'

Turkey enforced the air embargo by searching Indian, Soviet and Polish planes bound for Baghdad.

In Paris, representatives of the United States and 20 industrialized nations met to discuss how to replenish oil supplies if they are depleted by the crisis.

The nations are members of the International Energy Agency, which issued a communique that said it was preparing to protect the West from an oil supply crisis but that there was no immediate need to use strategic reserves to offset embargoed oil from Iraq and Kuwait. If a significant oil shortfall develops, the board will hold an emergency session, the communique said.

In other developments:

A grenade attack killed the 9-year-old son of a French soldier and wounded 17 other people in the Red Sea nation of Djibouti, which has served as a staging ground for French forces in the Persian Gulf, officials said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack Thursday night, and it was unknown wether it was linked to the gulf crisis.

Spain and South Korea joined other nations in pulling envoys from embassies besieged by Iraqi troops in Kuwait.

The first of 6,000 British ground troops prepared to fly to the gulf from Germany on Saturday, the Ministry of Defense said.

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