Bush’s Talks to Stress Terrorism Issue
Hours before Vice President George Bush landed here Sunday on the first leg of a working visit to seven European nations, a grim new incident made it clear that trade and defense issues will not rule the talks.
As Air Force II approached a refueling stop in Shannon, Ireland, it was ordered clear of a nearby area of ocean 120 miles southwest of Ireland where an Air India 747 jet crashed earlier Sunday, apparently killing all 329 aboard.
Authorities suspected that a bomb may have caused what was the third worst commercial air disaster in history.
The possibility of a new and deadly terrorist bombing lent an air of urgency to what Bush is still billing as a routine “listening, learning and consulting trip” with U.S. allies.
President Reagan had ordered Bush to add the subject of terrorism to the trip’s agenda after the hijacking of a TWA flight to Beirut and after four U.S. Marines and nine others were gunned down last week in a terrorist attack on outdoor cafes in San Salvador.
Now, “I’m sure because of the imminent nature of the problem . . . that it will occupy a good part of the discussions” between Bush and European leaders, said Marlin M. Fitzwater, Bush’s press spokesman. “I wouldn’t be surprised if terrorism got more time than any of the other issues.”
The other issues--trade barriers; allied concerns about President Reagan’s space-based defense effort; Reagan’s commitment to “interim” adherence to the expiring and unratified SALT II arms control treaty--were the sole reasons for Bush’s European tour when it was announced on June 11.
Officially, Bush’s 10-day sweep through Western Europe is designed to address economic concerns left unsatisfied by the May summit of leading industrial nations in Bonn and to further rally support for Reagan’s defense policies.
The vice president will visit seven European capitals during his tour, ending in London with a meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Between Rome and London, Bush will consult with leaders in West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland and France.
Despite the overriding public interest in the terrorism issue, Bush and many of the 20 officials with him say they still expect the trip to be a low-key one.
The economic issues, while important, are hardly eye-catchers. The thorniest part of Bush’s Rome visit, for example, could be a discussion of why the United States, in apparent retaliation for Italian tariffs against orange and lemon imports, recently raised trade barriers against Italy’s pasta exports.
Bush has also been granted a private Vatican audience with Pope John Paul II, where the issue of terrorism almost certainly will arise, aides said.
It is unclear what sorts of anti-terrorism proposals such talks might produce. Bush told reporters on June 19 that he had no new suggestions to combat terrorism, but that an existing study of airline hijackings by the International Civil Aviation Organization may offer a base for discussions.
Reagan has ordered Bush to convene a federal task force on ways to counter the rise of terrorism when he returns to the United States on July 3.