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Blunt Envoy Forced to Quit Post in Cairo

January 07, 1986|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — U.S. Ambassador Nicholas A. Veliotes, whose blunt demand that the Egyptian government "prosecute those sons of bitches" who killed an American tourist aboard the Achille Lauro, is leaving his Cairo post and retiring from the foreign service, Administration and diplomatic sources said today.

Veliotes, a career diplomat known for his candid comments, irritated Egyptian authorities with his blunt remarks.

A diplomat with a non-Middle Eastern country here, who insisted on anonymity, said Veliotes was being forced out to placate the Egyptian government and to demonstrate that the United States wants to smooth relations with Cairo.

'Shouting Match' Reported

According to the diplomat, Veliotes had a "shouting match" with Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who wanted him to return for consultations.

This account was disputed by the State Department. "I've heard nothing about any disagreements," said Michael Austrian, the chief press officer in the Near East bureau.

Veliotes, 56, is a Californian who headed the Near East bureau for more than a year after Shultz became secretary of state. He was sworn in as ambassador to Egypt in October, 1983.

His indignant demand for prosecution of the Palestinian gunmen accused of seizing the Italian liner last October, terrorizing the passengers and killing Leon Klinghoffer, a wheelchair-bound passenger, strained normally good U.S.-Egyptian relations.

Hijackers Forced Down

The accused hijackers were forced down in Sicily by U.S. jet fighters as an Egyptian plane carried them toward North Africa in search of a haven. Subsequently, Shultz sent his deputy, John Whitehead, to Egypt to try to ease strains.

It was not clear whether the outspoken ambassador realized his tough remarks over a ship-to-shore radio from the Italian liner would be overheard by journalists and transmitted throughout the world.

In 1984, Veliotes caused a stir while Congress was considering a resolution calling for the transfer of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv--a move the Administration opposed.

In a meeting he apparently thought was private, he reportedly asked senators for advance notice so he could evacuate from the Cairo embassy. Some of the senators evidently considered this a scare tactic.

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