CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The United States will remain neutral in the Iran-Iraq war but stands ready to defend its 'vital interests' in the oil-rich Persian Gulf area, Deputy Secretary of State Warren Christopher said Tuesday.
In the State Department's strongest statement to date on the 3-week-old Iran-Iraq conflict, Christopher warned the hostilities must not interfere with shipments of oil supplies out of the Middle East.
'The United States is neutral in the conflict between Iran and Iraq,' Christopher told United Press International's 21st annual editors and publishers conference.
'Neutrality in this conflict does not mean American indifference. We will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf region,' he said.
'To prevent the conflict from expanding in ways which threaten the security of the region, we will also respond to requests for assistance from non-belligerent friends in the area who feel threatened by the conflict,' Christopher said.
Earlier, independent presidential candidate John B. Anderson told the conference he would not bow out of the race despite new polls showing him far behind President Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan.
'I have just begun to fight,' he declared.
'A few days ago, Vice President Mondale said it was time for me to get out of the race,' he said.
'Well, I have some news for Mr. Mondale... You've tried everything and you've failed. You can't get me out of this race. And I have just begun to fight.'
Christopher said the Soviet Union must 'exercise its own self-discipline' in the Iran-Iraq conflict.
He described the Soviets' behavior as cautious, noting that they have worked with peace-making efforts of the United Nations Security Council.
'There must be no interference with free transit in the Strait of Hormuz and the Persian Gulf,' Christopher said. 'We will do what is required to prevent such interference.'
In a panel discussion following Anderson's speech, Rep. Richard Kelly, R-Fla., accused of illegally accepting money in the ABSCAM scandal, blamed the federal government _ not the news media _ for damaging his right to a fair trial.
Kelly, defeated in his renomination bid this fall, said news accounts provided him the best information on federal bribery indictments brought against him.
'When you've got it (information), you have to print it,' he said.
But Kelly sharply criticized the government and its agents.
'If you don't think politicians are mean, divest yourself of that. They can stick you in an oven and fry you, just as they can in other countries,' he said.
Kelly's lawyer, Anthony S. Battaglia, said the publication and broadcast of news leaks last February forced him to reveal his defense strategy before a grand jury was convened and an indictment was issued.
Michael Tigar, a lawyer for Rep. John Murphy, D-N.Y., another of those indicted, said the source of the leaks were 'employees and paid and former agents of the government.'
He said the government was mainly at fault but some news reporters should share the blame for 'sloppy' work and the failure to act professionally.
Jack C. Landau, director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said he shared the concern about manipulation of the press by government leaks. But he warned of the danger from defense attorneys who use subpoena power to try to force reporters to reveal their sources.