SANTA BARBARA — President Reagan on Sunday thanked "the various parties and intermediaries" who worked to arrange hostage David P. Jacobsen's release, but he declined to name them, apparently concerned that such information might interfere with the possible release of other hostages.
Five Americans and six Frenchmen are still being held in Lebanon.
Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite, who has been in Beirut in recent days, is assumed to have played a role in winning Jacobsen's release. However, White House spokesman Larry Speakes would not specifically credit Waite, other than to say that the Administration is appreciative of his efforts and has provided a U.S. military helicopter to assist his travels.
The White House announcement, coming just two days before critical congressional elections, prompted speculation that Jacobsen's release is "the November surprise" that Reagan needs to assist the campaigns of Republican senatorial candidates Tuesday.
Asked at a briefing here if Reagan will raise the hostage issue in a way that could benefit Republican candidates, Speakes responded with a sharp "No."
"You're within one inch of getting your head lopped off with a question like that," he warned the reporter who asked the question.
When several reporters protested that the question is legitimate, given the timing of Jacobsen's release, Speakes said Reagan "will certainly speak with pride" about the happy development as he campaigns today for GOP Senate candidates Jim Santini in Nevada and Ed Zschau in Orange County, Calif. "But as far as playing politics with it, absolutely not," Speakes declared.
Speakes bristled at the suggestion that Jacobsen's release was the result of intensified efforts on the eve of a critical election. He called it "a logical conclusion to efforts over a period of time." The Administration has "worked diligently over a period of years to secure this release," he added.
White House political director Mitchell E. Daniels Jr. predicted that the GOP will maintain its narrow hold on the Senate in Tuesday's voting, but he pleaded "no comment" when asked to assess the impact of the hostage breakthrough on Senate races.
Both Republican National Chairman Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr. and Democratic Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr., appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," discounted speculation about any large effect of the release on the balloting.
Both men generally agreed that the issue will probably not affect elections for state and local offices.
"We also have other hostages that we've got to be concerned about, and I think that for their safety that perhaps partisan politics should stay away from this issue right now," Fahrenkopf said.
Reagan was awakened in the middle of the night by John M. Poindexter, his national security adviser, with word that Jacobsen was free and was at the American Embassy in Beirut.
"We have been working through a number of sensitive channels for a long time," Reagan said in a statement read by Speakes and broadcast live by the three major television networks. "Unfortunately, we cannot divulge any of the details of the release because the lives of other Americans and other Western hostages are still at risk."
The Syrian government has been instrumental in winning the release of U.S. hostages in the past, but Speakes would not discuss any Syrian role in the Jacobsen affair, declaring that he intends to "leave it vague, and purposely so."