BRUSSELS — Secretary of State George P. Shultz today sharply criticized the Italian government for releasing Palestinian leader Abul Abbas, but Italian Foreign Minister Guilio Andreotti was unrepentant.
"The U.S. extradition request had no legal basis," Andreotti told Italian reporters after meeting with Shultz during a NATO meeting here. "We also could not arrest a man who had intervened to end a hijacking at our request and that of others."
The Reagan Administration alleges that Abbas masterminded the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro last week, in which an American tourist was killed.
Shultz told a news conference that there was evidence of Abbas' involvement in the hijacking and that Washington found it hard to understand the release of a person involved in hijacking and killing.
Shultz and Andreotti met for 30 minutes to try to clear the air between Washington and Rome following vehement U.S. protests over the release of Abbas.
The Palestinian leader was aboard the Egyptian airliner that was intercepted by U.S. jet fighters last Thursday as it was carrying the four hijackers out of Egypt. The plane landed in Sicily and Abbas was held briefly and then released. He quickly left Italy.
Shultz said that differences between Rome and Washington had not been resolved at his meeting with Andreotti but that ties between the two countries remained strong and cooperative.
Andreotti described the tone of some U.S. criticism of the Italian action as unacceptable to a nation that had been fighting terrorism for 40 years.
He also said telephone exchanges in the middle of the night were not the best way to handle such complex problems--a reference to the dispute between Washington and Rome over who should hold the hijackers once their plane landed in Sicily.
The Italian minister said arresting Abbas without legal proof would have been a slap in the face to Egypt.