U.N. Leader Sees No Major Obstacles to Hostage Deal : Diplomacy: But troublesome details are snagging the process, Perez de Cuellar concedes.


Although U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar believes that all the major obstacles to a complex prisoner exchange have been cleared away, the hostage drama dragged on Friday, stalled by contentious egos and troublesome details.

For the time being, apparently, the word is wait .

"Most observers feel that the field is ripe now for further action," President Bush told reporters at his vacation home in Kennebunkport, Me. "But having said that, there isn't anything overnight that I can point to to back it up.

"I check it . . . with hope in my heart every morning," the President said.

Talking to reporters in Lucerne, Switzerland, Perez de Cuellar said all the substantial difficulties have been cleared away for the anticipated swap of several hundred Arab prisoners held by Israel for 10 Western hostages and an accounting of seven Israeli prisoners of war.

Asked to outline any issues that are stalling the release, Perez de Cuellar replied: "Nothing. I think we have to go into details about the deal we are discussing."

Later, Perez de Cuellar flew to Lisbon to visit his daughter.

"The negotiations will go on behind the scenes, and I am hopeful of a solution within two weeks," he said as he arrived in Lisbon, according to the Portuguese news agency Lusa.

He said he plans to stay in Portugal until next Saturday but that he would halt his vacation to deal with any major development.

In four days of hectic diplomacy in Geneva earlier this week, Perez de Cuellar sketched the outlines of the prisoner swap in negotiations with officials of Israel and Iran. The Tehran government acted as a surrogate for the Shiite Muslim extremists in Lebanon who are holding the Western hostages.

But it may not be enough to satisfy the governments. The shadowy groups of hostage-holders are dominated by individuals who have their own agendas.

Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, a Muslim cleric and spiritual leader of the Hezbollah organization, accused the United States of delaying the release by failing to exert enough pressure on Israel to release its Arab captives.

"We think, according to the American statements, that they do not want to exert pressure on Israel to release the captives it holds," Fadlallah said in a Friday sermon in Beirut reported by the British news service Reuters.

"We know that it is possible for the U.S. to block the mediation of the U.N. secretary general as America previously blocked a hostage release process, and it might do the same thing now," he continued. "What attracts our attention . . . is that the U.S. President said he understands the Israeli stand in getting back its soldiers and, therefore, he understands its refusal to release the detainees."

In a letter to Perez de Cuellar, the pro-Iranian Islamic Jihad demanded the release of Arab prisoners in Israel and in Europe before the hostage crisis can be ended.

In Bonn, Hussein Mousavian, Iran's ambassador to Germany, hinted that two German hostages will not be released unless Germany frees two terrorist brothers, Mohammed and Abbas Hamadi, serving prison terms on murder and kidnaping convictions. Mousavian said in a radio interview that the Germans are being held by relatives of the Hamadi brothers rather than by a group with political objectives.

"The Hamadi family and the German hostages represent, in our eyes, an additional and special concern," Mousavian said, according to the Associated Press. He said Iran opposes the linkage between the German hostages, relief workers Heinrich Struebig and Thomas Kemptner, and the Hamadi brothers, but that the family is adamant that it will not release its prisoners until the brothers are free.

Mohammed Hamadi was convicted in 1989 of the murder of a U.S. sailor during the June, 1985, hijacking of a Trans World Airways airliner. His brother was jailed for kidnaping two Germans.

The Foreign Ministry later summoned Mousavian and demanded an explanation of his remarks.

In Beirut, relatives of Arab prisoners in Israeli jails staged a sit-in and appealed to the United Nations to exert as much pressure for the freedom of the Arabs as it applied on behalf of the Western hostages.

Meanwhile, President Bush said he would not commute the sentence of Jonathan Jay Pollard, an American serving a life sentence for spying on behalf of Israel.

Although the Israeli government has not mentioned Pollard in connection with the prisoner exchange, Pollard's attorney, Alan Dershowitz, called on the President to free Pollard as a "reciprocal gesture" to Israel.

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