Secretary of State George P. Shultz on Thursday bluntly told self-appointed negotiators trying to cut a deal for the release of American hostages in Lebanon to “butt out.”
Speaking to a news conference at the United Nations, Shultz insisted that the United States has not engaged in direct talks with Iran about the nine American hostages or any other subject. And, he reiterated, the Reagan Administration will make no deal to get the hostages out.
But he strongly implied that some private citizens have tried to negotiate the release of the hostages without official authorization.
“One of our problems is that there are always individuals who nominate themselves to get involved,” Shultz said. “To the extent that some people represent themselves as representing the U.S. government, they are misrepresenting themselves.
“They are in no way speaking with any authority whatsoever for the U.S. government,” he said. “I wish they would all butt out.”
Ever since Mithileshwar Singh, an Indian citizen with permanent-resident status in the United States, was freed by Islamic militants earlier this week, rumors have circulated that the release resulted from direct negotiations between emissaries of the Administration and the Iranian government.
Several different Lebanese groups are thought to be holding hostages. But Shultz said Washington believes that the Iranian government “has great influence” over all of the kidnapers and could, if it chose, obtain the release of the hostages.
Asked to speculate on why the rumors of direct talks persist, despite repeated denials from the Administration, Shultz said private individuals have tried to insinuate themselves “in practically every important thing (that is) going on.” He did not cite any names.
But Shultz made it clear that he believes the free-lancers are damaging U.S. foreign policy and possibly prolonging the captivity of the hostages.
“Anyone who tries to cut across our policies should butt out,” he said.
“These people forever seem to have it in their minds that some kind of a deal can be struck, and they want to be the negotiator,” he added. “We keep driving it home that there is not going to be any deal.”
He said representations by private Americans only “confuse matters.”
At the United Nations, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati denied any knowledge of would-be negotiators seeking to free the hostages and suggested that reporters ask Shultz to identify them.
“If there are some people that are not official and they are not authorized, we are not responsible,” he said at a news conference.
Velayati also rejected accounts of secret contacts between the U.S. government and Iran aimed at freeing the hostages.
Although the Administration once tried to trade arms to Iran for the release of hostages, Shultz insists that the attempt will not be repeated. Shultz, an outspoken opponent of the original arms deal, maintains that if kidnapers are paid anything of value in exchange for releasing hostages, they will simply seize more Americans to be used as trading stock.
Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr said this week that an emissary of Vice President George Bush negotiated Singh’s release after more than 20 months in captivity.
He identified the go-between as Richard Lawless, a former CIA officer, although when the Administration, Bush and Lawless all denied it, Bani-Sadr said he might have gotten the name wrong.
Asked specifically if he knows Lawless, Velayati replied, “We haven’t such a man in our country.”
Shultz said that during his two-week stay at the United Nations, he met with representatives of 132 of the 162 member nations of the organization. But he said Iran was not one of them.
“We are ready for talks with Iran, but what we want to talk about is the end of the (Iran-Iraq) war, the end of hostage taking and the end of terrorism as a tactic,” Shultz said.
On another subject, Shultz seemed to rule out a proposal by Honduran Foreign Minister Carlos Lopez Contreras for a U.N. military force to evict Nicaraguan Contras and leftist Salvadoran guerrillas from their bases in Honduras.
Asked if the United States would support the Honduran appeal, Shultz replied that the most important objective is to oust Nicaragua’s Marxist government. And that, he implied, might involve continued use by the Contras of Honduran base camps.
“The right way to go in Central America is to support those Nicaraguans who want to fight for freedom and democracy in their country,” he said.
Times staff writer Don Shannon contributed to this story.