KUWAIT — Democratic presidential candidate Jesse Jackson launched a campaign-style swing through the volatile Persian Gulf region on Wednesday, saying he is seeking to arrange the release of American hostages in Lebanon.
But early today, after receiving word of the death of Chicago Mayor Harold Washington, Jackson decided to cut short his planned six-day trip through the Middle East and Africa and return to the United States in time for Washington's funeral.
"It is the right thing to do," Jackson told reporters early today. "Chicago is the place I should be."
Jackson, who has lived in Chicago for more than 20 years and who helped Washington's campaign to end the dominance of the political machine of former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, rearranged his Thanksgiving Day schedule to compress events so that he could make appearances in Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia before flying back to Chicago late today.
"We want to close off the trip in a dignified fashion," said Jim Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute and coordinator of Jackson's planned journey through the three Middle Eastern nations and Ethiopia.
Plans Return Trip
Jackson said he plans to return to Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Jordan some time in late December.
Earlier, Jackson said he saw "a ray of hope" that he would succeed in arranging the release of the American hostages.
In an interview on the 14-hour commercial flight from New York, Jackson said the Reagan Administration's arms-for-hostages deals with Iran last year had "slammed the door" on his previous efforts to gain the hostages' freedom. Now, he said, those efforts are being revived.
Jackson, whose first presidential campaign received a major boost in late 1983 when he negotiated the release of a U.S. Navy pilot, Lt. Robert Goodman, shot down over Syria, said he had recently been in contact with the government of Syrian President Hafez Assad and "other Syrians" whom he did not identify, about the fate of eight Americans kidnaped in Lebanon.
He would give no details of those contacts, but Middle East diplomats have said in the past that Syria and Iran have the most influence with the radical Muslims holding the eight Americans and more than a dozen other foreigners.
Pentagon Implements Policy
Jackson had announced his Thanksgiving visit to the region last month, saying he wanted to boost the morale of U.S. troops serving on the warships patrolling the tense waters. But the Pentagon denied him permission to go on board the ships under a new policy drawn up in anticipation of more such requests by presidential candidates.
In the interview, Jackson said in his previous efforts to arrange the release of the Lebanon hostages: "We felt we were making some progress . . . when suddenly the door slammed closed on us." He said he later concluded that the collapse of his contacts was caused by the Reagan Administration's effort to trade weapons for the hostages' release.
He said he was working then with Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, who has acknowledged advancing $1 million for a ransom plan hatched by then-White House aide Lt. Col. Oliver L. North.
But Jackson said money for ransom was never mentioned in his own efforts involving Perot. "We never discussed money the whole time I've dealt with him," Jackson said.
No Official Comment
While the Reagan Administration has had no official comment on Jackson's latest effort at free-lance diplomacy, one Cabinet member expressed irritation about the trip Wednesday.
"One of the most destructive things we can do is to have some stranger out there conducting foreign policy," Secretary of Energy John S. Herrington said in an interview with The Times. "The American political scene is one thing, but he's out in the real world now."