WASHINGTON — Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger said today that the United States is fully prepared to attack terrorist targets in Libya or elsewhere but only if such attacks would "diminish and discourage further terrorism."
Weinberger made it clear that he does not favor military strikes against terrorist bases for the sake of military action alone despite threats by Libya's leader, Col. Moammar Kadafi.
"I think there are a lot of people who would get instant gratification from some kind of bombing attack somewhere without being too worried about the details," Weinberger said.
Those details, he said, include "collateral damage," which he defined as "killing women and children."
"We have to consider the appropriateness of the response and whether what we are doing will diminish and discourage terrorism in the future," Weinberger said.
But he stressed that, "when a direct military response is required, it can be made and has been made."
He cited the interception of three Palestinian terrorists leaving Egypt by air after their seizure of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in the Mediterranean and noted that all three are now in the hands of the criminal justice system in Italy.
Speaking at his first news conference in four months, Weinberger said the United States has "a good idea of where some terrorist training camps are."
"The important point is to have some clear idea that if any attack seems to be indicated on them, that these are indeed bases that have spawned terrorism that is directed against us," he said.
"The indiscriminate response . . . it's not what anybody is calling for," the defense secretary said.
"A discriminate response, an appropriate response, is difficult," he said. "But we are quite capable of delivering that kind of response very quickly and very effectively."
Weinberger's remarks appeared to reinforce a long-running split within the Reagan Administration over the appropriate use of military force against terrorism. Secretary of State George P. Shultz has been a more forceful advocate than Weinberger of strong military retaliation.
Weinberger, however, said he believes that any differences are "more differences in emphasis than anything else."
"I don't think there is any doubt that if we find a good, appropriate target for dealing with terrorism no one would have any problem with that," he said.
"I don't think . . . that Secretary Shultz has in mind spraying any target that somebody mentions might be a target."