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Reagan Cancels Vacation Due to Crisis in Beirut

Times Washington Bureau Chief

President Reagan, the Beirut hostage crisis said to be foremost in his mind, Monday canceled a 10-day California vacation that was scheduled to begin Friday.

Except for forgoing the trip to his ranch near Santa Barbara, though, Reagan is adhering exactly to his schedule and business as usual, presidential aides said.

With the 10-day-old crisis hanging over the White House like a dark cloud, the President has hoped to show that, although concerned for the hostages’ safety and their eventual release, he is not letting the situation monopolize his time, the way the 444-day Iranian hostage crisis dominated President Jimmy Carter’s.

Still, the continued holding of the 40 hostages seized in the June 14 hijacking of TWA Flight 847 already rivals, and perhaps surpasses, any other crisis that Reagan has faced during his presidency.

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As scheduled, Reagan met Monday with nine governors to discuss his tax simplification proposal. Afterward, Republican Gov. Richard Thornburgh of Pennsylvania said the President told the governors that the hostage situation is foremost in his mind.

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that, except for cancellation of his vacation, Reagan “has stuck very closely to his schedule, doing exactly what’s been laid out weeks ahead with no change, no additions, no deletions.” The hostage crisis, he said, is not taking up an increasing amount of the President’s time.

On Friday, Reagan still will travel to Chicago for a speech promoting his tax proposal. Afterward, instead of flying on to California, he will return to Washington and perhaps spend the weekend at the presidential retreat in nearby Camp David, Md., Speakes said. The President himself informed Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan on Monday morning of his decision to cancel the California trip, he added.

Question of Disruption

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Speakes said the move is consistent with earlier White House statements that Reagan is determined not to let the terrorists feel that they are disrupting his plans. “Going on a vacation does not fall into the category of making him change the course of the presidency,” Speakes said.

Asked whether cancellation was for appearances’ sake, Speakes replied: “The President just thinks it’s best for him to remain here in the White House while those people are being held over there, rather than go to the ranch for the Fourth of July.”

Earlier, Reagan aides had indicated that he would not cancel the vacation and said he could be kept abreast of any developments in Beirut from his ranch, as was done during some previous crises.

In August, 1981, Reagan continued a four-week California vacation during the nationwide air traffic controllers’ strike and the shooting down of two Libyan jets by U.S. warplanes in the Mediterranean. And in December of that year, he remained on vacation after martial law was declared in Poland, issuing sanctions against Poland and the Soviet Union from the ranch.

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Vacation Cut Short

However, he cut his vacation short in September, 1983, after the Soviet Union created an international furor by shooting down a South Korean airliner.

Reagan is still scheduled to spend three weeks in California in August. Speakes declined to say whether the President would cancel that trip if the hostages were still captive, saying the matter would be evaluated at a later time if necessary.

Meanwhile, civil rights leader Jesse Jackson, while saying he would not become involved in attempts to secure the hostages’ release, asked a U.S. State Department official Monday to “negotiate without threatening.”

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Jackson and two American Muslim leaders met for more than an hour with Robert B. Oakley, the department’s director of the office of counterterrorism, to encourage the speedy “mutual release” of Americans in Beirut and more than 700 Lebanese Muslim detainees in Israel.

“We engaged in some rather meaningful dialogue,” Jackson said after the meeting. Also at the meeting were Nassib Fawaz, chairman of the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, and Osama Siblani, publisher of an Islamic-American magazine.

Times Staff Writer Jonathan Eig contributed to this story.


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