Hopes of Freeing 2nd Captive Fade : Hostages: U.N. chief and White House still profess optimism for release of Westerners. But Perez de Cuellar says kidnaping of French citizen is one more roadblock.
U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar and the White House still professed optimism Friday, but a mood of foreboding took hold as a full day went by without the release of a second hostage from the fundamentalist Islamic kidnapers in Lebanon.
The surprise kidnaping of French medical worker Jerome Leyraud only hours after the release of British hostage John McCarthy on Thursday had obviously chilled the hopes of many Western officials and surely confused all those trying to put together an agreement that would end, once and for all, the agony of hostage-taking by the fundamentalists in Beirut.
On the eve of his departure for London to meet McCarthy to receive a secret letter from the kidnapers, Perez de Cuellar, one of the mediators for an overall solution, told journalists that he and his aides in Beirut still hope that a second hostage, probably an American, would come out soon. But he added that the threat by kidnapers to kill the French relief worker if any other hostages are released is “most unhelpful” and “totally counterproductive” and “would delay my efforts.”
McCarthy’s delivery of the letter from his Islamic Jihad kidnapers to Perez de Cuellar will take place Sunday at the Royal Air Force base at Lyneham in Wiltshire, west of London. But it was not clear whether this would be a significant or only a theatrical step in the complicated negotiations for release of the 11 remaining Western hostages in Lebanon.
Other hostage developments Friday included:
* Authorities in Lebanon and France confirmed Thursday’s reported abduction of Leyraud, 26, a French citizen doing medical relief work in Beirut. Lebanon’s interior minister, Sami Khatib, said that kidnapers seized Leyraud from his car in downtown Beirut and that Lebanese security forces are engaged in a large-scale search for him, the Associated Press reported.
“Jerome Leyraud’s abduction . . . was an assassination of peace in Beirut and an abduction of the joy that has prevailed in Beirut,” Khatib said.
* Former hostage McCarthy’s father, Patrick, said that his son had “a grand reunion” with family and friends upon his arrival in England. Reuters news agency said that, on Friday, McCarthy woke late to a traditional English breakfast of eggs and bacon, read reports of his release in the newspapers and had medical checks.
The United States
In Kennebunkport, Me., where President Bush is vacationing, his spokesman, Marlin Fitzwater, told reporters that the White House remains optimistic that an American hostage will be freed soon but “obviously every day that goes by, you lose a little optimism.”
“The fact is, we don’t have any hard information. The fact is, our optimism is based on hope, and we hope it happens.”
A good deal of confusion infused analysis of the situation, not only because negotiations for the release of the hostages have been secret and shadowy but also because officials seemed to be talking about two different, though related, series of releases. It appeared that the kidnapers had agreed to free McCarthy and a second hostage as a sign of good faith so that negotiations could go forward for an overall settlement releasing all the rest of the hostages.
All the talk about negotiations prompted White House spokesman Fitzwater to insist that the U.S. government is not a party to any of the bargaining. “We do not make deals with hostage-takers,” he said. “We do not negotiate with kidnapers. Similarly, we are not putting pressure on third countries to do so.”
If there was a truly hopeful sign during the day, it came from Beirut, where Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a cleric known for his influence among the fundamentalist kidnapers, demanded the release of the French medical worker “because we want to close this whole file.”
“There are no benefits for anyone in Lebanon and outside Lebanon to return to the kidnap methods,” Fadlallah said in a sermon in a mosque in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
The sheik, spiritual mentor of Hezbollah, the political-religious movement that hosts the various kidnaping groups, said that the impasse would end in an exchange of 375 Palestinian and Lebanese captives held by Israel for the remaining Western hostages.
In line with this, Perez de Cuellar hinted that the Israelis might release a few of these captives as a gesture of goodwill to ease negotiations toward a general settlement of the hostage problem.
“I understand that in southern Lebanon some Lebanese could be released,” Perez de Cuellar told reporters at the United Nations. “And that will be helpful. I’m sure the Israelis will cooperate with us in solving this problem.”
But the secretary general did not describe the report as authoritative. “I have heard something,” he said, “but it has not been confirmed to me.”
The Israelis, in fact, denied vehemently that they intend to do anything like that. Uri Lubrani, the Israeli official in charge of policy in Lebanon, said Israel had released some prisoners seven months ago but this failed to persuade the kidnapers to release any hostages then.
“There will be no gestures,” he said.
Moreover, the Israelis insist that they will not exchange their prisoners for Western hostages until seven Israeli servicemen captured or missing in Lebanon during the 1982 invasion are returned--or fully accounted for.
In London, Foreign Office Minister Douglas Hogg summoned Israeli charge d’affaires Nathan Meron in a move, diplomatic sources said, calculated to put additional pressure on the Israeli government to release Arab captives.
“There really does seem to be a chance now that we are on the way to seeing the solution of the hostage problem--the release of all the hostages,” a Foreign Office spokesman said.
“It is an opportunity not to be missed, and we will continue to emphasize to Israel that we attach importance to the release of all the hostages, to the release of Sheik Obeid and the detainees in South Lebanon.” Sheik Abdel Karim Obeid, a leading militant Shiite clergyman, was kidnaped from South Lebanon by Israeli commandos in 1989.
The Latest Hostage
Leyraud, who was working in Beirut for the relief organization Medecins du Monde, or Doctors of the World, was abducted by a little-known group angry that other radicals had released a British hostage.
The Associated Press reported that although Doctors of the World has worked in Lebanon for all 16 years of Lebanon’s civil war, Leyraud is the first member of the organization to be kidnaped there.
Leyraud’s abductors called him a spy and threatened to kill him if any more Westerners are released. Medecins du Monde insisted that his mission was humanitarian, the AP said.
“Jerome Leyraud is a young man dedicated to medical and sanitary aid to the Third World,” said Alain Deloche, the group’s honorary president, quoted by the AP. He said that Leyraud had also worked in Guatemala and Sierra Leone for the group.
That profile is typical of those engaged in the movement, whose founding is credited to 10 young physicians outraged at the politics that surrounded relief to civilians in the Biafra conflict of 1970, AP reported. They founded a group called Medecins Sans Frontieres, or Doctors Without Borders, to ensure that medical aid reached victims of disasters regardless of political affiliation.
The Former Hostage
In London, an associate of the 34-year-old McCarthy said that the former hostage is anxious to deliver the letter from his Islamic Jihad captors to Secretary General Perez de Cuellar. The associate, Robert Burke, an executive of Worldwide Television News, McCarthy’s employer, said that delivery of the letter will provide “his opportunity to complete his mission of freedom.”
The letter is believed to contain the proposals of the Islamic fundamentalists for an overall settlement of the hostage problem.
The joy of release and the poignancy of lost years were played out in a reunion at the Royal Air Force base where McCarthy is resting and underdoing medical examination.
McCarthy had what Burke described as an hourlong “happy and affectionate” reunion with Jill Morrell, his girlfriend, who led the international campaign for his release.
She reported: “He is in great shape, in good form, and he is just the John that we remembered. He did not say a lot, but it was a private moment, and I want to keep it like that.
“He wants to see his friends,” she went on. “He desperately wants to be in touch with all of them, but he has to take it slowly.”
But she pointed out, “He is being very sensible. He is following the advice that he has to take things slowly and is under the care of people who know what they are doing.”
As to their future as a couple, Morrell replied, “That’s a question that I could not answer for over five years because of the fact that he was kidnaped in Beirut. It’s a question that I still can’t answer you. John has got to readjust to his life again, and the most important thing in all this is that he is back and he has to pick up the threads of his life again. I really want him to have the privacy to do it in peace and in his own time.”
Burke, the Worldwide News executive, reported that McCarthy and three other hostages all had been permitted by their Islamic Jihad captors to listen to the British Broadcasting Corp.'s World Service on radio in recent months.
“John probably knows more about the world than we do,” Burke said.
Psychiatrists say British television journalist John McCarthy will need time to work out feelings of anxiety and guilt after five years as a hostage. Images of torture, solitary confinement and cell walls may recur as waking dreams and nightmares, experts say. Freed hostages have been diagnosed as suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder: after the euphoria of liberation comes the reliving of the “crucifying aloneness” of being a hostage, as his former cellmate, Brian Keenan, puts it. And, finally, readjustment to normal life can be further complicated by the “Stockholm syndrome,” in which a hostage comes to sympathize with his captors.
Times staff writers James Gerstenzang, in Kennebunkport, and Robin Wright, in Washington, contributed to this report.