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French Pleased by U.S. Dispute Over Hostages

November 08, 1986|STANLEY MEISLER and TYLER MARSHALL | Times Staff Writers

PARIS — The French government, buffeted by the American press in recent weeks for alleged negotiations with terrorist governments, expressed satisfaction Friday that the Reagan Administration is now accused by the American press of doing the same.

Asked to comment on reports in American newspapers that the United States has shipped arms to Iran over the past year to help bring about the release of three American hostages in the hands of Iranian-backed Shia Muslim fundamentalists in Lebanon, French External Relations Minister Jean-Bernard Raimond replied:

"After the incessant critical and, in some cases, hardly tolerable attacks against France, especially in the Anglo-American press, I note with satisfaction that others now find themselves vulnerable and perhaps more vulnerable than we are."

No Exact Knowledge

Raimond insisted that he has no knowledge of exactly what the United States was up to but added that he has no doubt that the Reagan Administration, despite all its talk about refusing to negotiate with terrorists, negotiated with someone for the freedom of the hostages.

In London, however, the official reaction to the American news reports was much different. A spokesman for the British Foreign Office told a group of American correspondents: "The Administration has denied its involvement and we accept that, so for the moment your questions on this entire issue are hypothetical."

But Paul Wilkinson, a professor at Aberdeen University and an expert on international terrorism, was sharply critical of the Reagan Administration.

"If the U.S. is doing deals at the highest level to ship arms, then it constitutes a grave departure from its tough public stance," Wilkinson said. "It constitutes a weakening of its posture toward terrorists that Reagan has tried to push the Europeans on. . . . There's a strong pungent odor coming from the whole thing."

French External Relations Minister Raimond, who addressed a luncheon meeting of the Anglo-American Press Assn. in Paris, could not resist a touch of irony as he discussed American press accounts.

Help From Israel

Government sources have told The Times that the United States, using an Israeli-operated supply line, supplied arms to Iran in exchange for help in freeing three hostages, the most recent of them David P. Jacobsen, director of the American University Hospital in Beirut. The others were Father Lawrence M. Jenco and the Rev. Benjamin Weir.

Jacobsen was freed by his captors in Beirut on Sunday. He met President Reagan at the White House on Friday.

"I do not know the details of the method used by the Americans to obtain liberation of the hostage," said Raimond, who has been forced to deny for days that France was negotiating with Syria to prevent a new outbreak of terrorism in Paris and with Iran to obtain release of six French hostages in Lebanon.

"But everything allows us to think that they (the Americans) have, in fact, negotiated. I do not know by what means. But they evidently have negotiated even though they have often said that they must not negotiate with terrorists.

"As far as we are concerned, we are not negotiating with kidnapers. We have relations with states in the region. We have normal contacts and, by using these contacts, we are trying to obtain the release of our hostages."

British See Distinction

The British Foreign Office spokesman appeared to try to draw a distinction between the accusations against the Reagan Administration and the accusations against the French government. The French government has been accused of contemplating the release of Georges Ibrahim Abdallah, a prisoner charged with terrorism, as well as the sale of arms to effect the release of French hostages and to avert a resumption of the bombing that killed 11 people in Paris last month.

"We've never been in the hostage swapping game, and I doubt we ever shall be," the British official said. "I'm not aware of any Iranian or Syrian prisoners coming out of American jails."

But Wilkinson, the Aberdeen professor, did not see much difference in the nature of the accusations against the United States and France.

"I find it wildly contradictory," he said, "to criticize European governments about the possibility of doing deals with terrorists and then supply not just carrots but wagonloads of carrots to one of the most blood-soaked regimes in the region. How can they criticize the French for trying to do a deal on Abdallah?

Warns of Escalation

"The policy was to minimize the rewards to those nations supporting terrorism and maximize the punishments. If you start reversing that, I think we'll see an unparalleled escalation of terrorism that will put every journalist and diplomat at risk."

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