WASHINGTON — Relatives of four of the six kidnaped Americans missing in Lebanon met for the first time with President Reagan on Monday and were assured that the United States would be willing to talk, but not negotiate, with those holding the captives.
"The gesture has been made," said Sue Franceschini, sister of Father Lawrence Jenco, who was seized Jan. 8 in West Beirut. "We're waiting to see if the gesture will be picked up. We're giving a message."
The family members appealed for redoubled efforts to free the hostages during almost two hours of White House talks--a brief meeting with Reagan, followed by a long session with national security adviser Robert C. McFarlane.
Although their anxiety was heightened in recent weeks by the reported killing of one hostage and by other violence in the Mideast, the relatives appeared reassured by the meeting, which followed repeated requests for an audience with Reagan. At the same time, they said they had no expectations for a breakthrough.
Paul Jacobsen, whose father, David, of Huntington Beach, Calif., has been missing since May 28, said that little if any new information was conveyed. Glenn Anderson, whose son Terry was kidnaped March 16, said glumly, "We're not any closer to Terry's release."
Anderson's sister, Peggy Say, said Reagan and McFarlane made clear that the Administration is "pursuing some initiatives" to win freedom for the hostages. Some of those behind-the-scenes efforts have centered on possible mediation by Syria.
The offer to open direct talks with the captors was first made weeks ago and reaffirmed in response to an appeal from the families that the Administration pursue what Jacobsen called "new avenues," including a willingness to discuss the kidnapers' demands.
There was no indication that Reagan had deviated from his firm refusal to negotiate with terrorists. However, Jacobsen suggested that an outpouring of public sentiment might persuade the President to soften his position.
Effort to Gain Notice
The late-afternoon stop at the White House, sandwiched between two days of meetings with Administration officials, members of Congress and Lebanese and Syrian diplomats, was intended to focus attention on the plight of the six.
Relatives of four hostages--Anderson, Jacobsen, Jenco and Peter Kilburn--attended the meeting. The two other captives, Thomas Sutherland and William Buckley, were not represented.
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said the Sutherland family was in London and could not attend. Buckley, the only U.S. government official to be seized--and the hostage reported Oct. 4 to have been killed--has no known family.
Buckley, the first of seven Americans to be kidnaped, was abducted from his car in West Beirut on March 18, 1984. Participants in the White House meeting said the Administration offered no new information about him.
Speakes said that although the Administration is "continually assessing" the situation, there is no plan for a change in approach, which has rested on quiet efforts to use Syrian President Hafez Assad and others to put pressure on the hostages' captors, believed to be pro-Iranian Islamic extremists.
"It remains a priority," Speakes said.
On Oct. 4, the Shia Muslim fundamentalist group Islamic Jihad said that Buckley, 57, had been found guilty of being the CIA station chief in Beirut and executed in retaliation for Israel's air strike in Tunis.
No body has been found, and Speakes reiterated Monday that a photograph purporting to show Buckley's body did not provide positive identification.