Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson said today that his Christian Broadcasting Network once knew the whereabouts of the American hostages held in Lebanon and he suggested that they could have been rescued.
"We identified in our news department at CBN the location of those hostages in Lebanon very shortly after they were taken, and they were in a position where they could have been rescued," the former television evangelist said during a campaign stop in Georgia.
"They were in Beirut, and they could have been freed," he said.
Told of Robertson's statement, White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater asked, "Why didn't he tell us where they were?"
Robertson did not provide any more specifics and did not say which hostages were involved.
Nine in Captivity
Nine Americans remain in captivity in Lebanon, including Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, who was heading the 75-man observer group attached to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon when he was captured last week.
Terry Anderson, chief Middle East correspondent of the Associated Press, is the longest-held captive. Anderson was kidnaped on March 16, 1985.
Robertson, asked if he had informed Reagan Administration officials about the CBN information, said: "I broadcast it on national television. They monitor our programs virtually every day. Their speech writers used to watch us to get some concepts for speeches."
In Washington, a State Department terrorism expert said he was puzzled by Robertson's statements.
The official, who requested anonymity, said he was unaware that CBN ever broadcast the precise locations of any hostages. He also said it was unclear from Robertson's statements which hostages he was referring to, since Americans have been taken captive at various times over the past several years.
Knowledge of the hostages' whereabouts in terms of a particular city or even a section of a city wouldn't be enough to mount a rescue mission, the official said.