WASHINGTON — President Reagan said today that the U.S. government has repeatedly advised Americans to get out of Lebanon and that those who ignored the warnings "clearly did so at their own risk."
"There is a limit to what our government can do for Americans in a chaotic situation such as that in Lebanon today," Reagan said in a statement read by spokesman Larry Speakes.
Three American professors seized in war-torn West Beirut on Saturday were personally contacted by the U.S. Embassy staff last spring and told of the dangers of remaining there, Speakes said.
A more general warning was given to all Americans last Tuesday, and over the weekend John Kelly, the U.S. ambassador in Lebanon, advised remaining Americans to leave.
'Number of Options'
Reagan, who condemned the last kidnapings of three Americans and an Indian-born U.S. resident, reiterated that the U.S. government "will not make concessions to terrorist groups despite their threats."
The terrorists appear to believe--erroneously, Reagan said--that by "trafficking in human lives, they can force sovereign governments to give in to their demands."
Reagan discussed the hostages in a 35-minute meeting with White House Chief of Staff Donald T. Regan, National Security Adviser Frank C. Carlucci and Carlucci's top aide, Lt. Gen. Colin Powell.
"There were certain decisions taken," Speakes said, refusing to elaborate.
But he said the United States could pursue various options, including economic and military steps, public statements and the use of intelligence. Pressed on whether Reagan has considered a military response, Speakes said, "There are a number of options at our disposal, period."
8 Now Held Hostage
The latest wave of kidnapings at Beirut University College brings to eight the number of Americans held hostage in a country controlled by warring factions.
West Beirut "has deteriorated to total anarchy with armed criminal groups taking the law into their own hands," Reagan's statement said, adding that more than 20 people from nine countries are held by terrorist groups.
"Today, my sympathy goes out to the friends and relatives of all these hostages," Reagan said.
Despite the Administration's deep concern for the hostages, he said, the U.S. government has for 12 years regularly warned Americans against traveling to Lebanon and repeated its assessment last Tuesday that the situation in Lebanon was "extremely dangerous."
"Americans who ignored this warning clearly did so at their own risk and on their own responsibility," Reagan said.
'The Free Choice'
Speakes said no one has been ordered to leave because "we try to allow Americans to have the free choice of where they go and what they do." At the same time, U.S. citizens were apprised of the dangers and told to protect themselves.
Neither Speakes nor the State Department will say how many Americans are in Lebanon, out of fear of giving terrorists information that could lead to more abductions.
But in late 1986, independent Arab-American sources said the figure could be as high as 1,000. Most of them are thought to be dual nationals, either born in Lebanon or married to Lebanese.
Speakes said there is no move to close the U.S. Embassy, which is run by a skeleton American staff and located in Christian-controlled East Beirut.
"It is important that we are there, we stay on the job and we do not allow terrorists . . . to run the United States government out of the Middle East," he said.
A State Department official said the embassy's operations focus on reporting on political trends and processing visas.