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IRAN SAYS HALTING SHIP WOULD BE ACT OF PIRACY

An Iranian newspaper Monday said any U.S. interception of a North Korean freighter, reportedly laden with Scud missiles for Iran or Syria, would be "piracy."

Several newspapers quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency, monitored in Cyprus, denounced what they called bullying tactics by the United States.However, neither the newspapers nor the state-run radio and television denied that the ship, the Dae Hung Ho, could be carrying Scud-C missiles, which have a range of about 360 miles.

The Bush administration, stressing that no decisions have been made about whether to intercept the ship, has expressed deep concern about the possible missile shipment and its potential destabilizing effect on the Middle East.

Western intelligence officials have said the ship is headed for the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, but the shipment's ultimate destination is believed to be Syria, an ally of Iran.

Israeli officials have expressed grave concern at the prospect that Syria, the most steadfast enemy of the Jewish state, could be getting the missiles.

The Tehran Times, which usually reflects the thinking of President Hashemi Rafsanjani, said the ship broke no law by steaming toward Iran.

"In the opinion of most political observers, the legal advisers at the U.S. State Department are quite aware that what the United States is planning to do is an outright act of international piracy," the newspaper wrote.

State-run Tehran radio said it was illogical for the United States to be sensitive about the purchase of long-range missiles by Syria while giving military aid to Israel.

"The world of blasphemy acts in a singularly hostile manner toward the world of Islam," it said. "Muslims have no alternative to unity in order to safeguard their existence."

An editorial in the radical Jomhuri Islami appealed to the international community to take a stand against Washington's "impudence," IRNA reported.

Another radical daily, Abrar, claimed that President Bush was engineering the showdown in a bid to help his re-election campaign.

U.S. Navy officials have said they are ready to intercept the Dae Hung Ho if orders are issued to do so. American officials insisted the action would be legitimate because the U.S.-led Maritime Intercept Force has the right to challenge any commercial ship in the region to enforce the U.N. trade blockade on Iraq.

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower battle group is in the Mediterranean with a total of 29 warships, including frigates, destroyers and cruisers. The USS America battle group, with 27 warships, is in the Red Sea, North Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.

President Bush said over the weekend that he was concerned about the shipment.

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(Chart)

A North Korean freighter believed to be carrying advanced Scud-C missiles may be headed for Iran or Syria. The Scud-C is reported to be more accurate and have a longer range than previous versions.

Iraqi Scud-B

medium range, surface-to-surface missile

Length: 37 feet

Diameter: 3 feet

Launch weight: 7.0 tons

Payload: One 2, 172-lb, warhead, conventional or chemical

Propulsion: Liquid fuel

Accuracy: within 1,476 feet

Range: 186 miles

Source: Jane's Soviet Intelligence Review