Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called on European allies Wednesday to "work together with all like-minded states" in combatting terrorist hijackings, and she said that a proposal to ban flights by European nations to and from Beirut International Airport will be discussed in Bonn next week.
However, after delivering a brief and strong attack on terrorism after a midday meeting with Vice President George Bush, Thatcher said Britain will continue to accept flights from the only international airline based in Beirut until other nations reach a consensus on refusing to accept flights from the Lebanese capital.
Britain, she said, is reluctant to ban flights to London by Middle East Airlines, a carrier that flies from Beirut to Britain, Italy, Cyprus and other European nations, until other European countries agree to a similar ban.
The original seven nations that met in Bonn last March for an economic summit will meet next week to consider anti-hijacking measures. If no agreement is reached there, Thatcher said, Britain may consider banning the flights on its own.
In a brief statement during a press conference Wednesday, Thatcher suggested that Beirut airport authorities share complicity with the terrorists who last month hijacked TWA Flight 847 and forced it to fly to Beirut, where they murdered a U.S. Navy man among the passengers.
'Intolerable' Airport Use
Before Bush arrived, Thatcher told Parliament, "It is intolerable that Beirut airport should be used to launch terrorist attacks outside the Lebanon."
Thatcher and Bush called on foreign nations to "work to revitalize the Bonn declaration of 1978," an anti-hijacking agreement reached at a similar economic summit of Western nations in July of that year. That declaration resolved that participating nations cease all flights to any country that refuses to extradite or prosecute aircraft hijackers. Similarly, a 1970 convention on hijacking held at The Hague agreed that governments would extradite or prosecute hijackers who are apprehended within their boundaries.
Bush, who stood smiling by Thatcher's side while she read her statement against hijacking, called the TWA incident "an outrage against civilized society" and said that Thatcher was demonstrating leadership among European nations in attacking the terrorism problem.
In response to questions, Bush again said that the release of the 39 American hostages from Beirut was not brought about by any agreement between the hijackers and the U.S. government, but by "astoundingly good diplomacy" on the part of negotiators from American and foreign governments, including Syria and Algeria.
Bush's meeting with Thatcher concluded a 10-day European visit that took him to seven countries from Italy to Britain.