WASHINGTON — President Reagan said today that he wants "to rescue" Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, abducted while working for the United Nations in Lebanon, but officials hastened to say that the President was referring to a multinational, diplomatic effort.
Reagan was asked, during a photo session on the budget with congressional leaders, about U.S. efforts to find Higgins.
"We're doing everything we can," Reagan responded. "We're trying to find out as much as we can. We're trying to get him located, and certainly we want to rescue him."
Asked what such a rescue would entail, State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman said, "I think the President is making a reference there to all of our efforts to stay in touch with parties in the region, with the United Nations, to explore every possibility, to see if Col. Higgins can be safely returned."
CIA Role Denied
There has been no mention by officials at the State Department, Pentagon or White House of any U.S. military action to rescue Higgins. Instead, officials repeatedly have emphasized that Higgins is under U.N. authority and control.
Redman denied assertions today by the group claiming responsibility for Higgins' abduction Wednesday that the Marine officer worked for the CIA. The spokesman said the group, the Islamic Revolutionary Brigade, is not known to U.S. authorities.
House Minority Leader Robert H. Michel (R-Ill.) also played down Reagan's remark about a rescue. "I think that was, maybe, just an off-the-cuff remark," said Michel, who was present when Reagan said it.
The Reagan Administration reaffirmed in strong terms its determination to continue supplying American soldiers for the U.N. Truce Supervisory Organization, not just in the Middle East but also in Lebanon. Higgins was head of the 75-man truce-observer force.
9 Now Being Held
"We don't intend to let terrorists determine our policies or deter us from fulfilling our duties," Redman said.
Higgins was seized traveling in South Lebanon on official UNTSO business. (Story on Page 8.) He and a number of other Americans--the State Department said fewer than 20--are members of the UNTSO team assigned to keep the truce along the Israeli-Lebanese border. His abduction brings to nine the number of Americans currently held in Lebanon.
In Louisville, Ky., Higgins' father, William F. Higgins, 72, died today of heart failure, said a spokeswoman for Humana Hospital Audubon.