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Iran Cooling Terrorism, Expert Says

February 02, 1988|NORMAN KEMPSTER | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Iran inexplicably pulled back from plans last summer for a concerted offensive of terrorist attacks on American embassies and other facilities abroad, the State Department's counterterrorism chief said Monday.

"There was certainly evidence of planning of attacks on American targets over the summer and into the fall," L. Paul Bremer, director of the Office of Counterterrorism, said in an interview. "We are confident that the intelligence was good intelligence. Why the attacks didn't take place? You'd have to ask Tehran."

U.S. officials speculate privately that Iranian leaders decided terrorist attacks on American facilities would not, at that time, serve Tehran's primary objective of winning its war with Iraq.

Bremer said intelligence agencies continue to file new reports of Iranian preparations for terrorist strikes against U.S. facilities, apparently indicating that Tehran's decision not to go through with the summer plans was a tactical one, not a change in overall strategy.

"It is the assessment within our intelligence community that there are no significant differences in the Iranian government over the use of terrorism," Bremer said. "They will use it. The question is when they will choose to use it."

The reports of Iranian terrorist planning coincided with the start of the controversial U.S. naval escorts of Kuwaiti tankers last July through the Persian Gulf.

Now, however, officials believe that Iranian leaders have concluded that a terrorist attack might stiffen American resolve to stay in the gulf instead of producing the reaction the Iranians want, a U.S. withdrawal.

Overall, Bremer said, the international war on terrorism is going very well.

"I think the international community turned a corner, probably in the summer of 1986," Bremer said. Since then, he said, many nations have begun to focus on the crimes committed by terrorists instead of the political motivation for their actions.

Bremer said there has been a 40% drop in terrorist attacks in Europe in the last two years. He said that most European terrorist groups, like Direct Action in France and the Basque separatist organization ETA in Spain, have suffered severe reversals in the last year. The most conspicuous exception in Europe is Britain's failure to control the outlawed Irish Republican Army, which is seeking to drive the British out of Northern Ireland.

The decline of the European terrorist groups seems to have frustrated Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi's efforts to enlist European nihilists as mercenaries to advance his plan of worldwide revolution.

Bremer said Kadafi has been far less active in support of terrorism since the U.S. bombing of Tripoli and Benghazi in April, 1986. At the time of the bombing, according to U.S. intelligence agencies, Kadafi was planning more than 30 terrorist attacks around the world. Only two of the assaults were attempted, Bremer said, and both failed.

Bremer, speculating on the reasons for the U.S. action's impact on the Libyan leader, said, "Kadafi is a bully, and the psychopathy of bullies suggests that they are vulnerable to a punch in the nose, which is what he got."

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