‘Very Dangerous’ in Present Context, Envoy Says : U.S. Plans Maneuvers Off Coast, Libya Charges
The U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet will conduct maneuvers off the Libyan coast next week, less than two weeks after two U.S. fighter jets downed a pair of Libyan warplanes over the Mediterranean, the Libyan ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday.
The Navy notified civilian aviation authorities in Libya that the naval exercises will take place Jan. 16 and 17 and warned civilian air traffic to steer clear of the area, Libyan Ambassador Ali Treiki told U.N. Security Council members.
“In the present context, it is very dangerous,” Treiki commented to reporters.
Navy sources could not confirm the report Tuesday evening, but such notification is routine. Defense Department officials stressed that the United States had decided not to change any previously scheduled exercises in the wake of the aerial clash last Wednesday.
“The outgoing Administration is doing its best to make clear to the Libyans that this is serious business,” said one defense official, referring to the Reagan Administration’s allegations that Libya is building a plant to produce chemical weapons.
2 Carriers, 14 Escorts
The dates cited by Treiki for the Navy exercises would find as many as two U.S. carriers and about 14 escort ships in the Mediterranean. The carrier Theodore Roosevelt neared the mouth of the Mediterranean on Tuesday en route to replace the carrier John F. Kennedy, whose aircraft were involved in last week’s incident. The Kennedy was docked in Haifa, Israel, and was expected to head westward out of the Mediterranean soon.
Treiki told Security Council members that the maneuvers would be held inside Libyan territorial waters east of the Libyan port of Benghazi, which forms the eastern end of Libya’s so-called “line of death.”
Col. Moammar Kadafi, Libya’s leader, claims the waters of the Gulf of Sidra as Libya’s territorial waters and has warned that navigation through the gulf would be regarded as a hostile act. But his claim is not recognized by the United States, and in August, 1981, U.S. fighters shot down two Libyan SU-22s that had challenged their presence over the gulf.
Treiki’s comments came as the U.N. Security Council continued debate on a resolution condemning the United States for shooting down the Libyan jets last week. A draft calls on the United States to suspend its military maneuvers off the Libyan coast. The resolution, which the United States has declared it will veto, is expected to come to a vote today.