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Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate on the United States Air Strike in the Persian Gulf

September 24, 1987

Dear Mr. President: (Dear Mr. Speaker:)

At approximately 4:00 p.m. (EDT) on September 21, 1987, Armed Forces of the United States assigned to the Middle East Joint Task Force observed an Iranian landing craft, the "IRAN AJR", engaging in nighttime mine-laying near U.S. forces in international waters of the Persian Gulf. This hostile action posed a direct threat to the safety of U.S. warships and other U.S. flag vessels. Accordingly, acting in self-defense and pursuant to standing Peacetime Rules of Engagement for the region, two U.S. helicopters operating off the USS JARRETT engaged the Iranian vessel, which subsequently resumed its mine-laying activities. Thereupon, the helicopters re-engaged the AJR, disabling it with rocket and machine gun fire, and curtailed the further release of mines.

Subsequently, at first light in the Persian Gulf on September 22, U.S. forces boarded the disabled craft, which proved to have been manned by regular elements of the Iranian navy. Three crewmen were found dead on the vessel and nine mines were found on deck. Twenty-six survivors were recovered from the water and from lifeboats and taken to U.S. naval ships for examination and medical treatment. Arrangements are being made to turn the survivors over to an appropriate humanitarian organization. Two members of the crew of the IRAN AJR are believed missing. Search and rescue operations for them have been undertaken, as well as operations to find and clear a number of mines that, according to discussion with surviving crewmen of the IRAN AJR, were laid prior to action against the vessel by U.S. forces.

The actions taken by U.S. forces were conducted in the exercise of our right of self-defense under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Mining of the high seas, without notice and in an area of restricted navigation, is unlawful and a serious threat to world public order and the safety of international maritime commerce. These Iranian actions were taken despite warnings given to the Government of Iran, subsequent to the recent mine damage done to the U.S.-flag vessel BRIDGETON, that the U.S. Government would take the action necessary to defend U.S. vessels from attacks of this nature.

U.S. forces in the area have returned to their prior state of alert readiness. They will remain prepared to take any further defensive action necessary to protect U.S. vessels and U.S. lives from unlawful attack.

These limited defensive actions have been taken by our Armed Forces in accordance with international law, and pursuant to my constitutional authority with respect to the conduct of foreign relations and as Commander-in-Chief. While being mindful of the historical differences between the Legislative and Executive Branches of government, and the positions taken by all of my predecessors in office, with respect to the interpretation and constitutionality of certain of the provisions of the War Powers Resolution, I nonetheless am providing this report in a spirit of mutual cooperation toward a common goal.



Note: Identical letters were sent to Jim Wright, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and John C Stennis, President pro tempore of the Senate.

Ronald Reagan, Letter to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the President Pro Tempore of the Senate on the United States Air Strike in the Persian Gulf Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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