Negotiate, Don’t Try Force or ‘We Will Die’: Hostages : Letter Plea to Reagan by 4 held in Beirut Is Rejected
Four American hostages in Lebanon appealed to President Reagan today in a letter to negotiate with their Shia Muslim kidnapers to secure their freedom. “There is no alternative,” they said in an open letter to Reagan. “They say they will not be moved and are growing impatient.”
The appeal was contained in a package of nine letters that an unidentified young man threw at the feet of the guard at the Associated Press bureau in Beirut.
The letter to Reagan asked: “Mr. President, how long do you suppose these people will wait? We have no chance of escaping, and our captors say if any attempt is made to rescue us they and we will all die.
“It is in your power to have us home by Christmas. Will you not have mercy on us and our families and do so?”
The handwritten letters were signed by Father Lawrence Jenco, a Roman Catholic priest; David P. Jacobsen, director of the American University Hospital of Beirut, Terry A. Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent of the Associated Press, and Thomas Sutherland, dean of agriculture at the American University of Beirut.
Told Buckley Is Dead
The hostages said they had been told by their captors that another hostage, U.S. diplomat William Buckley, “is dead.” There was no mention of a sixth American hostage, Peter Kilburn, 60, librarian at the American University of Beirut.
In Washington, White House spokesman Larry Speakes reiterated the Reagan Administration’s policy not to negotiate with terrorists.
“The President’s policy has not changed as far as negotiating with terrorists and will not change,” Speakes said of the open letter addressed to Reagan. “We do not negotiate with terrorists.”
Speakes said that Reagan was briefed on news accounts of the letter and that the U.S. Embassy in Beirut is examining the letter to verify whether it was genuine.
AP staffers in Beirut said they recognized Anderson’s handwriting in the letters and his signature. Sutherland’s wife, Jean, saw the letters at the AP office in Beirut and said a letter addressed to her was “definitely” from her husband and signed by him.
No Sign of Location
The letters gave no indication where the hostages were being held.
But in the message to Reagan they said: “We are kept in small, damp (two words scratched out) 24 hours a day, without proper exercise, sanitation, fresh air or balanced diet.
“We have only intermittent access to outside news. It is difficult to remain cheerful and optimistic when we see no sign anywhere of progress towards our release.”
The letter was dated at 1 p.m. Beirut time today, the day after anonymous telephone callers in Beirut claimed that the hostages had been shot by firing squads.
In a separate letter to the media, signed by the four, the captives said: “We have just been told that someone has claimed that Islamic Jihad has killed all of us.
Talks ‘at a Dead End’
“Obviously this is not true. Our captors say it was an attempt by the U.S. government to spoil negotiations.”
An anonymous caller telephoned a Western news agency in Beirut on Thursday claiming to speak for the Shia fundamentalist group, saying that the hostages were to be killed because negotiations with the United States had “reached a dead end.” (Story, Page 22.)
Two later calls claimed that the hostages had been killed and their bodies dumped in Beirut. But police searches turned up no bodies.
Apart from the open letter to Reagan, the package delivered today contained a letter to U.S. Reps. George M. O’Brien (R-Ill.) and Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove); one to the media saying they are still alive; a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Robert Runcie, and personal letters to each of their families.
There also was a letter from Anderson to the Beirut AP staff. Anderson’s personal letters contained details that only he would have known, the Associated Press said.
In their letter to Reagan, the hostages said they were told that Buckley is dead. Islamic Jihad claimed in a statement Oct. 4 that Buckley, 57, was killed in revenge for alleged U.S. complicity in Israel’s Oct. 1 air raid on the Tunis headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The group produced blurred photographs of what it claimed was Buckley’s shroud-wrapped body. But U.S. officials have said the photos are not “conclusive proof” that Buckley is dead.
State Department officials said today they still would not draw the conclusion that Buckley and Kilburn are dead.
One official said, “It is possible that Kilburn and Buckley are being held by a different group, or that they refused to sign the letter.”
In their appeal to the President, the hostages said: “We have read and heard over the past months of your refusal to negotiate with our captors, and your rationale for it.
‘We Do Not Agree’
“We understand it, but do not agree. You negotiated over the hostages from the TWA plane, and such negotiations have been held repeatedly and successfully by other countries--Israel, Egypt, El Salvador and the Soviet Union.”
The letter went on: “You, and they, did so because you believed that saving the lives of innocent hostages should be the primary goal. We are asking for the same consideration. There is no alternative.”
In Washington, Speakes was asked how he thought the hostages would feel about Reagan’s decision rejecting the appeal to negotiate their release.
“I cannot make that judgment,” he said. “We do not negotiate.”