U.S. Carriers Near Libya, Await Orders
The U.S. aircraft carrier Coral Sea left Spain and joined the carrier America in the Mediterranean Friday in case President Reagan decides to order a military strike against Libya, Pentagon sources said.
But the sources, who demanded anonymity, said no orders had been issued for the Coral Sea and the America to re-form a battle group.
Navy Secretary John F. Lehman Jr. said Friday that the fleet is ready to strike at Libya if Reagan orders it.
“Whatever tasks are provided to the Navy, the Navy is ready to do,” Lehman said after a Capitol Hill hearing. “Our fleet is as ready today as it has ever been in history.”
Carrier Left Spain
Pentagon officials said the 62,000-ton Coral Sea and its 80 aircraft, including 40 F-18 fighter jets and attack and electronic warfare aircraft, left Malaga, Spain, early Friday and steamed into the Mediterranean.
The 78,500-ton America, carrying F-14 fighter jets and a mix of attack and electronic warfare planes, left Livorno, Italy, a day earlier.
The two carriers and their protective battle groups of about 10 ships each are part of a powerful U.S. Navy 6th Fleet armada of 30 ships in the Mediterranean.
Meanwhile Friday, presidential Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan said that most Administration officials believe Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi is linked to the bombing of a discotheque in West Berlin.
Regan, watching the departure of President Reagan’s helicopter for Camp David, Md., was asked about reports of “incontrovertible evidence” linking Kadafi to the attack. He replied: “As far as most people are concerned, yes, that is true.”
Asked if he was referring to Administration officials, Regan said: “We haven’t reached a final conclusion, but we’re coming close.”
Regan spoke after West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl said: “There are a great many indications that the attack on the discotheque in West Berlin involved Libya also.”
Regan’s comments were the first official statements about Kadafi’s alleged role in the April 5 bombing of the La Belle disco in West Berlin and any possible retaliatory action in two days. The explosion killed an American soldier and a Turkish woman and wounded more than 50 other Americans.
U.S. security had alerted American soldiers in some West Berlin nightspots about the imminence of a terrorist attack and were on their way to La Belle when the bomb exploded, a U.S. official said.
Kohl’s comments were the strongest statement from a German official linking Libya to the attack. But Kohl still shunned U.S. calls for economic sanctions against Libya amid indications of growing opposition from other U.S. allies in Western Europe that they would oppose a military response to alleged Libyan-supported terrorism.
In Tripoli, the Libyan news agency JANA warned of a Libyan attack on “the whole of southern Europe” if the United States unleashes a retaliation against the North African country.
Reagan, who planned to spend the weekend at Camp David, stopped short of blaming Kadafi for the bombing at a news conference Wednesday. He said only that his Administration was gathering proof about who was responsible for the blast before launching a possible retaliation.
NATO leader Lord Carrington Friday agreed with Reagan that the United States could not accept terrorism without retaliating.
But Carrington, secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, said Europeans might not support severe U.S. military retaliation even though they would sympathize with some sort of U.S. retaliation.
“I don’t think that the United States can sit back and allow this sort of terrorism that we have seen to go on without taking some sort of retaliatory action,” he said on NBC’s “Today” show.
Tripoli radio, meanwhile, said Friday that Reagan had acknowledged that Kadafi had the ability to strike from within the United States in his war with America.