President Reagan said Friday the administration is considering the question of compensation for the destruction of Iran Air Flight 655, but a spokesman said the issue has not yet been submitted to the president for decision.
Reagan, asked what he was going to do about compensation, said, "All of that's under consideration." He was asked during a brief appearance in the White House briefing room.White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said there were "still some open questions" on the compensation issue and it had not yet gone to the president for a decision.
"There is a universe of issues to be considered related to legal aspects of it, to the specifics of the incident, to relations between the two countries, and to past experience and history," Fitzwater said.
He would not be more specific.
Fitzwater also disclosed that the United States has sent messages of condolence to the countries from which the airline passengers came, asking that sympathies be extended to the families. The countries are Pakistan, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, India, Yugoslavia and Italy.
On Thursday, Fitzwater said, "I suspect that doing what we think is right will be the deciding factor."
Fitzwater's comments marked a significant change in the tone of administration pronouncements after several days of noncommittal responses on the issue of reparations for families of the 290 victims.
"One of the driving forces behind our consideration is simply the moral responsibility of America and the fact that we've always been a humane nation that takes these kinds of problems very seriously and assumes personal responsibilities," he said.
The Defense Department acknowledged Thursday that
the Iranian A300 Airbus shot down by the U.S. warship was within a commercial airline corridor but said that alone did not guarantee its safety.
"An airway is not a safety zone," said Pentagon spokesman Dan Howard. "All this means is that within that zone, within that area, the air traffic control authorities have agreed to track aircraft."
Meawhile, Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Hussein Sheikholeslam demanded that the United States pay compensation for shooting down the civilian airliner.
Sheikholeslam also called for revenge Thursday in a speech on Tehran radio, monitored by the British Broadcasting Corp. in a report made available Friday.
Fitzwater stressed that no decision on reparations has been made either by senior staff or President Reagan. But in contrast to his suggestion earlier this week that the decision will await the outcome of the Navy's investigation of the incident, Fitzwater said he wanted to emphasize that "we're moving along through the consideration process.
"We don't have final decisions yet, but it clearly is an issue that is under active discussion," Fitzwater said.
On Capitol Hill, House Speaker Jim Wright, D-Texas, said Congress would likely support a request for compensation if it came from the president.
"It should come from the president," Wright said.
The Pentagon spokesman, in a briefing with reporters, said that even though the airliner was in a civilian air corridor, Vincennes skipper Capt. Will C. Rogers III still could not rule out the chance he was facing an attacking F-14 fighter.
Howard said Iran must share some responsibility for the deaths because the Airbus took off from a military-civilian airport at Bandar Abbas during an exchange of fire between the Vincennes and Iranian gunboats.
"The Iranians are the ones who bear the responsibility for ensuring that if they are the ones who provoke the hostilities, they are the ones who began the shooting in this incident, that they ensure the safety of their civilian aircraft by not sending them into harm's way," Howard said.
Howard discounted speculation on Capitol Hill that an Iranian warplane might have been flying behind the commercial flight in an attempt to use it as a cover to sneak up on the USS Vincennes.