WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration's leading expert on counterterrorism said Sunday that the rising death toll in Europe caused by terrorist bombings should disprove the widely held view of U.S. allies that Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi is strictly "an American obsession."
"There are those who say that this Administration is obsessed with Libya and that we're blowing the whole thing up out of proportion--that there isn't a serious threat there," said Robert B. Oakley, who heads the State Department's counterterrorism office.
In an interview on CBS-TV's "Face the Nation," Oakley acknowledged that Administration efforts to clamp down on terrorism two years ago were undercut by the suspicion among European leaders that President Reagan was focusing too much attention on Kadafi.
"It didn't succeed because the amount of international cooperation has not been great enough," he said. "People sort of said, 'Oh this is an American crusade; it's an American obsession.' "
But Oakley asserted that an escalating death toll in Europe over the last few years, combined with two new bombings within the last week--which the Administration has characterized as a part of Kadafi's "master plan" for terrorism--have demonstrated to the Europeans that the threat extends beyond the sphere of the United States.
"This is not something that is bilateral," he said. "It is not the United States versus Libya. Think of the effect this is having upon the Europeans. We're in this together, and our objective is to get the Europeans to work with us to do more about this threat, whether it be from Libya or Syria or Iran or elsewhere."
Oakley said that in response to recent attacks, the United States once again will try to "generate as much collective action and pressure as possible" among American allies and "not necessarily" retaliate directly against Kadafi.
Oakley recalled that the Reagan Administration alerted European leaders beginning last October, before the bloody, Christmas-season attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports, that there was "a big threat coming up into Western Europe, coming particularly from terrorist groups sponsored by Kadafi." He added that as recently as March 26, the State Department announced that it had put some foreign U.S. posts on alert for attacks.
These warnings were based on Kadafi's own statements that he was training people to carry out terrorist attacks on American targets, Oakley said. He added that the United States also has evidence of "a number of surveillances" of U.S. embassies around the world by Libyan diplomatic personnel in various capitals.
"We take seriously what Kadafi says, even though he's a madman in some respects," he said. "Hitler was also a madman in some respects, and there was a lot of trouble where people didn't take seriously what he was saying."
23 Victims Were Americans
Noting that the international death toll from terrorism has risen from 126 in 1982 to 928 last year, Oakley emphasized that only 23 of last year's victims were Americans and that "none of the international terrorist incidents took place in this country."
"So the problem is much more out there than it is here, and only with the cooperation of other governments are we going to be able to get it under control," he said. "It's not something the United States can do by itself."
Despite the growing threat, Oakley did not discourage Americans from traveling to Europe. He noted that the 23 Americans killed by terrorists around the world last year were a small number compared to the "millions and millions" who traveled overseas.
No 'Fortress America'
"I think that we cannot allow the terrorists to force us into a 'Fortress America,' " he said. "We have too many things to do abroad. We have national interests abroad; we also have business abroad. We shouldn't be scared off by the terrorists. We shouldn't lock ourselves in a rose garden and say we're not going to leave the United States until there's an end to terrorism abroad."
He noted that Europeans will suffer economically if Americans stop traveling to those countries where bombings have taken place in recent days, and he added that airport security throughout Europe has been beefed up in the last year.
Oakley said Administration officials have "some suspicions" about who is responsible for the latest bombing, that of a West Berlin discotheque filled with U.S. servicemen. The Administration knows of no direct link between that and the bombing last week of a Trans World Airlines jetliner over Greece, he said.
"You can't quite tell who bombers of this sort may be working for," he said. "Some of these terrorist organizations seem to be rather like free-lance mercenaries. They'll take their directions and their money from whoever will pay them."