BONN — A report in the Washington Times newspaper that West German leaders suspect Israel of fabricating evidence in the attempted bombing of an El Al passenger jet in London last April was firmly denied Friday by West German and French officials.
"The story is pure invention which we totally deny, clearly and unequivocally," Foreign Ministry spokesman Reinhard Bettzuege declared at a briefing here.
The article, published Friday, was based on an interview Tuesday with French Premier Jacques Chirac by Washington Times' editor Arnaud de Borchgrave, in which the journalist said Chirac did not want to be quoted directly.
In the article, De Borchgrave did not quote Chirac directly but instead summarized his views.
According to the article, the French leader said that at a recent meeting he had with Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the two West German leaders said they suspected that Israeli intelligence was behind the affair.
Informed of the article, the French premier's office in Paris acknowledged that Chirac had spoken with De Borchgrave but said in a statement: "Jacques Chirac states that the interpretation given to his remarks by Mr. De Borchgrave is without foundation."
Chirac was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying the article was based on a misinterpretation of his remarks. "In no way did Germany or France ever imagine such a thing," he said. "It is absurd."
The French premier said he had told De Borchgrave that he could not judge British evidence of any Syrian involvement. "We were not in a position to judge a case of which we did not have the full details." he said.
In Jerusalem, Israeli officials expressed incredulity at the account, which suggested that their secret service, known as Mossad, had operated with dissident members of Syrian President Hafez Assad's government to embarrass Assad.
The bomb attempt at London's Heathrow Airport was foiled when El Al security men found a bomb planted in the luggage of an Irish woman. Her lover, Jordanian Nezar Hindawi, was convicted in London last month of the crime.
Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Syria over the incident when evidence was produced at the trial showing that Hindawi was in contact with the Syrian Embassy in London and had been aided by Syrian diplomats.
According to the Washington Times account, the Israeli purpose was to implicate the Damascus regime in the bomb plot.
"It's unbelievable," said an Israeli Foreign Ministry official. "The story is, of course, ridiculous."
De Borchgrave's account in the Washington Times, which is owned by officials of South Korean evangelist Sun Myong Moon's Unification Church, reported that Chirac said the two West German leaders believed that the plotters had instructed Hindawi to report to the Syrian Embassy in London after giving the concealed bomb to his girlfriend.
She was under the impression, she said at the trial, that she was flying to Israel where she would be married to Hindawi.
Hindawi was sentenced last month to 45 years in jail, and Britain has asked other Western countries to take measures against Syria for masterminding an act of international terrorism.
The West German spokesman said that Bonn was seeking information from Paris on what Chirac may have told De Borchgrave, who is a former foreign correspondent with Newsweek magazine.
The spokesman said that he was not in a position to comment on what Chirac might have told De Borchgrave but insisted: "We deny that we could have said this. Genscher never said it. We have no information about any Israeli plot."
And Chancellor Kohl's chief spokesman, Friedhelm Ost, said the Bonn government has absolutely no information about any Israeli conspiracy.
At the Washington Times, Larry Chandler, the newspaper's public relations adviser, said De Borchgrave had left for a weekend in Florida, and that the publication was standing by the Chirac interview "unequivocally."
The 90-minute interview was tape-recorded by De Borchgrave, Chandler said, "and if Chirac's office continues to claim he was misrepresented, on Monday we will publish the text of a transcript of the tape."
However, the spokesman said, De Borchgrave would prefer not to violate the original ground rules, under which there were to be no direct quotations from the interview, which was conducted in French, a language De Borchgrave speaks fluently.
"This is the first time in 40 years that Arnaud has ever had anyone claim an inaccuracy in one of his stories," Chandler said. "Chirac invited him to come to France for the interview, and he knows it was tape-recorded. He must regret what was said. The bottom line is that Chirac said it, and we have the tape recording."
Meanwhile, Chandler said, outside journalists will be denied access to the tape and to the transcript.
Times staff writer Don Irwin, in Washington, also contributed to this article.