Met Hostages’ Captors, Waite Says in Beirut
Terry Waite, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy seeking to free American hostages in Lebanon, said Sunday that he met their captors at a secret location in Beirut and that he is satisfied that four of them are alive and well.
Before flying to London, Waite said at a news conference that “positive steps have been taken” but stressed that the situation “remains very difficult and very dangerous.”
Waite left Beirut to brief Archbishop Robert A. K. Runcie, primate of the Church of England, on the results of his mission thus far and to inform senior U.S. officials of his contacts. He stopped briefly in Rome before flying on to London on Sunday night.
Waite’s meeting was seen as the first real breakthrough in the long-running hostage drama. It is believed to be the first contact between a Western intermediary and the kidnapers, who are thought to belong to the Shia Muslim extremist organization called Islamic Jihad, or Islamic Holy War.
Appeal by 4 Americans
Four of the six Americans missing in Beirut appealed to the archbishop by letter 10 days ago to help negotiate their release.
Waite said he was satisfied that the four who wrote to Runcie are alive and well, but when asked if he had seen any of them, he said: “No comment.”
Waite, 46, told reporters that his one-man mission “is not over” and that he expects to return to Beirut to resume it.
He said that “positive steps have been taken” since he arrived last Wednesday but that “there is still a long way to go.”
“During the the past days, I have had lengthy contacts,” Waite said. “There is absolutely no doubt at all that I have got through to the right people and that a measure of trust has been established.”
Waite would not say whom he met, what passed between them or where the meeting took place, and he warned news media against speculating on any of those points.
“I shall have to keep almost all the information I have to myself in order to protect lives,” he said.
One of 12 Letters
The hostages’ message to the archbishop was one of 12 letters from the four captive Americans that an unidentified man delivered to the Beirut bureau of the Associated Press.
The letters were signed by hostages Terry A. Anderson, 38, the AP’s chief Middle East correspondent; Father Lawrence Jenco, 50, a Roman Catholic relief official; David P. Jacobsen, 54, of Huntington Beach, Calif., director of the American University Hospital in Beirut, and Thomas Sutherland, 53, Scottish-born dean of agriculture at the university.
The four wrote that they had been told by their captors, identified as members of Islamic Jihad, that a fifth hostage, U.S. diplomat William Buckley, 57, was dead.
They made no mention of Peter Kilburn, 60, a university librarian missing since last December.
Shultz Sees Envoy
In Geneva, meanwhile, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Sunday that he met there with the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, Reginald Bartholomew, regarding negotiations to free the Americans.
“He told me there seems to be more pressure on the situation right now and we will, of course, work with it to the best of our ability because we want to get those people back and it’s long overdue,” Shultz said on the ABC-TV interview program “This Week With David Brinkley.”
Islamic Jihad, a shadowy group of Shia fundamentalist terrorists believed linked to Iran, seeks the release of 17 comrades jailed in Kuwait for bombing the U.S. and French embassies and Kuwaiti installations there in December, 1983.