President Reagan said Monday that some European allies had proposed a coordinated “all-out” attack against Libya but that the United States decided to proceed instead with a limited bombing strike.
The suggestions, he said, were “that we look seriously together at real major action” against Libya.
Reagan, interviewed by four wire service reporters, did not disclose the names of any allied leaders who proposed stronger action. However, other sources suggested that France had proposed a broader-scale attack aimed at bringing down the regime of Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said that “some think France would have cooperated” if the United States had undertaken such a mission. Instead, the French government refused to allow U.S. warplanes based in Britain to fly through its airspace en route to Libya, where they bombed Kadafi’s residence and other targets described by the United States as terrorist-related.
Dole, quoting a “good source” he refused to identify, said French President Francois Mitterrand had told U.S. envoy Vernon A. Walters that France could support the U.S. attack, but only if the move were strong enough to topple Kadafi. Walters met with Mitterrand and other allied leaders in the days before the April 15 raid, seeking support for the action, which eventually was obtained only from Britain.
Several other officials also have suggested that France favored tougher action against Libya. In discussions leading up to the raid, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger said, “someone mentioned that the attack should be a thorough job, not a pinprick.” But Weinberger said he was not sure whether the comment came from the French.
Reagan, in his 30-minute interview, also criticized France’s refusal to permit U.S. planes into its airspace on their way to Libya, and he vowed to press the allies to adopt plans for stronger action against terrorists during the May 4-6 economic summit meeting of seven industrial nations in Tokyo
Sharing in Protection
The President said he could not “see any justification” for France’s action “if we’re all allies together and supposed to be sharing in the protection of all our countries.”
France’s action forced U.S. pilots to fly a much longer, circuitous route to Libya, subjecting them to greater fatigue in a high-stress combat mission, Administration officials said. Weinberger, suggesting that the longer route increased the risks for the pilots, said they needed to be “at peak efficiency” for such a mission.
In the aftermath of the raid, Reagan noted, some European countries are considering broader anti-terrorist action against Libya. The President emphasized that he will press for coordinated action against Libya and a broader policy approach to the general problem of terrorism at the Tokyo summit.
A Sophisticated Network
The allies already have a sophisticated intelligence-sharing network that enabled them last year to thwart 126 terrorist acts, including Libyan-sponsored plans for attacks on 35 targets involving countries that will be represented at the summit, Reagan said.
In addition to the United States and Japan, the countries whose leaders will attend the summit are Canada, Britain, France, Italy and West Germany.
Terrorism is mainly striking the European countries, even though they have been “quite verbose” in saying Americans were the prime targets, Reagan said.
“So I am not going there (to the summit) with the idea that we should get some grandiose statement,” he said. “I think we all know how we feel about terrorism. I am hopeful that we can sit down and work out what it is that we can do together to deal with this problem.”
Price for Terrorism
Staunchly defending the U.S. raid against Libya--which killed a number of civilians, including a 15-month-old child who reportedly is Kadafi’s adopted daughter--Reagan said that “we truly had a consensus within the Administration that we had no other choice, that we had to let them (Libya) know there was a price” for committing terrorist acts.
If any American bombs hit civilian areas, Reagan said, “I’m sorry about that.” But he added that “there is just as much evidence that it might be one of their missiles” that had gone astray. American pilots have reported that some of the Soviet-made missiles fired at the U.S. warplanes misfired and fell back into residential neighborhoods in Tripoli.
“It’s something you regret any time children or innocent people are wounded or killed,” Reagan said. “On the other hand, I was equally sorry about the little baby blown out of the side of an airplane from 15,000 feet to his death, . . . and I also feel badly about an 11-year-old girl shot down in cold blood for simply standing in the airport in Rome.”
Bombing of Jetliner
The President was referring to an explosion April 2 that ripped a hole in the side of a Trans World Airlines jetliner over Greece, killing four Americans, including a 9-month-old girl, and a terrorist attack at the Rome airport in December that killed Natasha Simpson, an 11-year-old American.
Meanwhile, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as former President Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, endorsed Reagan’s decision to bomb Libya but said the attack will do more harm than good to U.S. policy unless it is coupled with renewed Mideast peace initiatives.
Brzezinski, at a breakfast meeting with reporters Monday, said he does not believe that Reagan had any choice but to order the bombing. However, he added, “I don’t think that should be his total policy.”
Rally Around Leaders
And he scoffed at the Administration’s hopes that the bombing might spark a coup against Kadafi, pointing out that, historically, countries that come under attack have tended to rally around their leaders.