WASHINGTON — President Reagan warned Saturday that "irreparable damage" to this country's ability to hunt down terrorists will be done if "a handful of United States senators" succeed in blocking a revised treaty that would simplify extradition of accused Irish terrorists to Britain.
Holding that "terrorists are always the enemies of democracy," Reagan said during his weekly radio talk that failure to approve the treaty, which has been before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee since last July, would "undermine our ability to pressure other countries to extradite terrorists who have murdered our citizens."
Called Affront to Thatcher
"And rejection of this treaty would be an affront to British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, one European leader who, at great political risk, stood shoulder to shoulder with us during our operations against (Libyan leader Moammar) Kadafi's terrorism," said Reagan, who is of Irish descent.
The revised treaty would narrow language in the existing agreement with Britain that prohibits extradition for crimes of a "political nature." The amended wording would exclude violent crimes, such as murder and hijacking, from the category of political acts, thus making it easier for Britain to recapture fugitives, frequently members of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, who are accused of terrorist acts in Northern Ireland's continuing civil strife.
Recalling that leaders of the Western democracies agreed on anti-terrorist policies at their Tokyo summit last month, Reagan said that progress had been imperiled by Senate resistance to the revised treaty.
"This agreement," he said, "would prevent terrorists who have kidnaped, killed or maimed people in Britain from finding refuge in our country. Today, these killers are able to do just that, by labeling their vile acts 'political.' "
Democrats' Version Hit
Reagan said enactment of a substitute version that would exempt people who kill or injure uniformed personnel from the extradition, which has been proposed by Democratic members of the Foreign Relations Committee, is not a compromise, but rather "would be a victory for terrorism and a defeat for all we've been trying to do to stop this evil."
The Foreign Relations Committee is controlled, 9 to 8, by Republicans, but the draft treaty has been stymied ever since arch-conservative Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) joined the eight Democrats in opposition, tipping the balance to 9 to 8 in favor of the opposition.
As is often the case, Helms took an individualistic stand, opposing the draft on the grounds that it could end the traditional role of the United States as a refuge for political dissidents and set a precedent for other treaties that could permit extradition of rebels against tyranny, among them Nicaraguan contras.
Helms has thus far remained deaf to Administration arguments that no apparent precedents have been set by new extradition treaties with anti-terrorist clauses already concluded with Mexico, Colombia and the Netherlands, as well as an understanding to the same effect reached with West Germany.
See U.S. Taking Sides
The committee's Democrats, four of whom represent states in the East with large Irish-American voting blocs, have argued that the United States would be taking sides between the British government and the IRA if it went along with the treaty revision. They have sought to amend a $250-million aid package--$230 million in credits and $20 million in grants proposed by the Administration for Northern Ireland--into a straight $250 million grant program. Some have proposed linking the extradition treaty to the aid package.
Up to now, the committee's chairman, Sen. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.), has avoided bringing the treaty to a vote as he strives with representatives of the Administration, including Reagan, to persuade one or more of the Democrats to switch position. The committee's next meeting is set for Tuesday.