Reagan Cancels Calif. Trip Until Hostages Are Freed : Berri Says 6th Fleet Must Leave : Reagan Cancels Calif. Vacation Over Hostages
President Reagan, veering from his “business-as-usual” stance, today canceled his 10-day Fourth of July vacation at his California ranch as long as American hostages are held in Beirut.
“The President just thinks it’s best for him to remain here in the White House while those people are held over there, rather than going to the ranch,” White House spokesman Larry Speakes said in announcing the decision.
When asked if Reagan would revive plans for a vacation at the ranch if the hostages are freed by Friday, when the President was to have left on his trip, Speakes replied, “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Speakes cautioned that Reagan’s decision does not indicate he anticipates a quick solution to the problem. He said there had been “no substantial change” in U.S. efforts to bring the hostages home.
Speech in Chicago
He said Reagan still plans to travel to Chicago for a speaking engagement Friday, but will return to Washington that evening rather than go on to his ranch near Santa Barbara.
In Beirut, Shia Muslim leader Nabih Berri set a new condition today for the release of the 40 American hostages, demanding that U.S. warships carrying 1,800 Marines withdraw from the Lebanese coast.
Berri, leader of the Shia militia Amal and the negotiator for the hijackers, said an earlier demand, for the release of 766 mostly Shia captives held by Israel--31 of whom were freed today--still stands.
“The approach of the American fleet makes us add another condition--and this time on behalf of Amal--for the release of the hostages. That is that the American fleet moves away from our seafront,” he said.
Present Since June 16
Three warships of the 6th Fleet, led by the aircraft carrier Nimitz, arrived off Lebanon after the jetliner landed in Beirut on June 16, two days after it was seized during a flight from Athens to Rome. The vessels were joined Friday by three ships carrying 1,800 Marines.
Sources in Washington said the task force was steaming in a 30- to 60-mile range from the coast. At times, they said, ships might go out 100 miles to pick up supplies from support vessels.
Speakes, asked about Berri’s new demand, said, “The fleet is not in Lebanese waters.”
Earlier, White House spokesman Bob Sims was asked if the new demand was a troubling development. “It’s troubling that they’re continuing to hold these innocent people. . . . It’s complicated enough already,” he said.
With his advisers and First Lady Nancy Reagan known to be concerned about the appearance of vacationing in California as the hostage drama continues, Reagan announced the change of plans to his top aides over lunch.
Reagan has tried to maintain his business-as-usual policy since the hostage crisis began by keeping to his schedule and traveling outside of Washington to push his tax reform plan.
Insisting “we’re not paralyzed” by the crisis, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Sunday that “I think we have to carry on our schedules. If the President is in California, he’s right by a phone, believe me.”
Being near a telephone has not enabled Reagan to escape criticism in the past for tending to ranch chores when crises break around the world.
The sight of Reagan horseback riding at his ranch the day Soviet fighters shot down a Korean Air Lines jumbo jet with 269 people aboard prompted his image-conscious aides to advise an early return to Washington.