U.N. Chief Talks to Israelis, Iran : Hostages: ‘It would be naive to expect something in the next days,’ Perez de Cuellar says after the discussions.
Giving the world a glimpse of his diplomacy, U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar conferred with Israeli envoys in Geneva on Wednesday, then phoned Iran--although he failed to announce any new movement in the impasse over the hostages in Lebanon.
“It would be naive to expect something in the next days,” he told reporters afterward.
Yet, the lines--and some of the snags--in an agreement were taking shape. The Israelis made it clear in comments to the media that they are prepared to release a few Shiite Muslim prisoners as a gesture of goodwill if they receive some kind of an accounting for their seven servicemen missing in Lebanon. That gesture could serve as a prelude to a general exchange of 375 Lebanese Shiite prisoners for 10 Western hostages and those Israeli servicemen still alive.
After the 90-minute meeting with Perez de Cuellar, Uri Lubrani, the chief Israeli negotiator, said the secretary general did not bring up the issue of a token release of prisoners but listened to the Israeli position.
Promising that talks with Perez de Cuellar will continue, Lubrani said: “One must have a lot of patience and perseverance. We hope the momentum will be kept and that we will soon have good news.”
After his meeting with the Israelis, Perez de Cuellar phoned Iranian diplomat Kamal Kharazi in Tehran but did not release any details of that conversation.
Kharazi, who is Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, met with the secretary general Monday in Geneva and is believed to have been one of Perez de Cuellar’s main contacts in the past in secret negotiations for release of the hostages. It is widely assumed that Iran has a great deal of influence on Hezbollah, the fundamentalist Shiite Muslim organization associated with the kidnapers, because its members regard themselves as disciples of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran.
News of the hostage crisis continued to unfold on several fronts:
* A potential snag developed in Damascus. Palestinian guerrilla leader Ahmed Jibril said he has been assured by leaders of Hezbollah that no Western or Israeli hostages will be freed unless Israel releases thousands of Palestinian detainees. Jibril also said he has been assured that three of the seven missing Israeli servicemen are still alive. But that statement was met with skepticism in Israel. “You have to know that Ahmed Jibril is not a reliable person,” said Amos Yaron, a retired general who worked out a prisoner exchange with Jibril six years ago. “To say that I believe him? No.”
* In another potential snag, Hossein Mousavian, the Iranian ambassador to Germany, said the kidnapers will not release two German hostages unless the German government first frees two Lebanese brothers jailed on terrorism charges, including one serving a life sentence for his part in the murder of an American sailor aboard a hijacked TWA airliner in 1985. But Perez de Cuellar dismissed this idea. He insisted that whatever the shape of the overall settlement, it will not include the release of any terrorist convicted in Europe.
* News reports circulated that Italian hostage Alberto Molinari was killed by mistake shortly after he was abducted in 1985. If that is true, the list of Western hostages in Lebanon would be cut to nine: five Americans, two Britons and two Germans.
* President Bush told the convention of the Fraternal Order of the Police in Pittsburgh that “this Administration will never rest until every hostage is free to rejoin his loved ones and return to the America that loves them.” The President also had high praise for Perez de Cuellar’s mediation in Geneva. “They’re doing a good job there and trying hard,” Bush said, “and we support him 100%.”
Israel and the U.N.
Before meeting with the Israeli negotiators in Geneva, Perez de Cuellar was asked if he expects Israel to release some detainees by the weekend. “That is my hope, but I’m not quite sure, unfortunately. . . ,” he said. “If we could have a gesture on the part of one side or other, that would be extremely positive.”
But the Israelis said that he did not bring this possibility up during their session. Without briefing reporters in any detail about the talks, Lubrani, the chief Israeli negotiator, described them as “very friendly, very fruitful and very good.” He also characterized the whole hostage situation as “very painful and intricate.”
The meeting with Perez de Cuellar left the Israelis without satisfaction of their key demand: information on the fate of their missing soldiers. Lubrani said the Israeli envoys will remain in Geneva until today.
In Israel, officials repeated their government’s position barring any unilateral release of prisoners without some satisfaction about the missing soldiers.
“If in the course of these discussions,” Deputy Foreign Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told the Cable News Network, “we receive some information about our POWs--conclusive, reliable, solid information that we know who they are, where they are, how many of them are alive, how many are dead--we’ll be prepared to make a gesture to start the process.”
Netanyahu said a videotape showing the missing Israelis could set exchanges in motion.
This position was repeated in Geneva by Perez de Cuellar, who told the media that Israeli officials are “prepared to make every effort if they know in a clear manner the situation of the missing persons.”
The Missing Italian
In Beirut, the British news agency Reuters quoted a senior Lebanese security source as saying that kidnapers killed Italian businessman Molinari soon after he was abducted six years ago.
The source said the then-66-year-old Molinari, who worked for an insurance company and had lived in Lebanon for more than 20 years, was killed and his body dumped in eastern Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley.
“It was a mistake,” the source said without giving details.
British hostage John McCarthy said last Thursday that his captors had told him shortly before setting him free that all 11 Western hostages in Lebanon were alive. This raised some hopes that Molinari was among them.
Later Wednesday, the Associated Press quoted Beirut police as saying they had no information to confirm the report that Molinari was dead.
The knotty question of the two terrorist brothers imprisoned in Germany could upset negotiations--even though the secretary general insisted that their situation cannot be treated like those of the hostages in Shiite extremist hands or the detainees under Israeli control.
But Iranian Ambassador Mousavian said that the two German hostages are held in Lebanon by the family of the brothers held in Germany, who will never release them until their kin have been freed.
The brothers are Mohammed Ali Hamadi, sentenced to life imprisonment for his part in the murder of the American sailor aboard the hijacked airliner, and Abbas Ali Hamadi, sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment for his part in the kidnaping of two other Germans.
Meisler reported from Washington and Williams from Jerusalem. Times staff writer James Gerstenzang, in Pittsburgh, contributed to this report.
Background: Alberto Molinari
Alberto Molinari was kidnaped on Sept. 11, 1985, three days after his 66th birthday. He apparently was seized by gunmen while driving across the Green Line dividing Christian East and Muslim West Beirut. No group claimed responsibility for his kidnaping, and none of the subsequently released hostages has reported seeing Molinari. Born in Syria, Molinari was a fluent Arabic speaker. His Italian family had been traders in Syria and Lebanon for three generations. And Molinari, who worked for an insurance company, had lived in Lebanon for more than 20 years. He and his wife, Susan, have three children. His son, Luigi, 36, has said that the Italian government made no real effort to secure his release although the Italian Embassy in Beirut has kept Molinari’s file open.