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U.S. Won't Pull Out of U.N. Force in Lebanon: Reagan

February 19, 1988|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Reagan said today that Americans will not be pulled out of the U.N. observer group in Lebanon despite the threat of terrorism or the kidnaping of Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins.

Reagan made his statement after Defense Secretary Frank C. Carlucci said in a television interview that U.S. officials were studying whether Americans should be withdrawn from Lebanon because of the abduction of Higgins by gunmen in southern Lebanon.

The President said that he was reluctant to answer questions during a photo-taking session in the Oval Office, but that "on this particular subject, I feel I must straighten it out."

Denying that Americans will be pulled out, Reagan said, "We are going to meet our obligations to the United Nations."

Fewer than 20 Americans are assigned to U.N. duties along the Lebanese-Israeli border, according to the State Department.

Reagan said U.N. forces have been in Lebanon since 1949. "We're very definitely a part of the United Nations."

Speaking about the threat of terrorism, the President said, "Of course we worry because we know that terrorists around the world targeted us as one of their targets."

'Everything Possible'

Earlier in the day, Carlucci had said "everything possible" is being done to secure the release of Higgins, the head of a 75-man, multinational observer group attached to the U.N. Truce Supervisory Organization in Lebanon.

Higgins was abducted Wednesday in southern Lebanon.

Asked on NBC-TV's "Today" show whether other Americans assigned to the effort would be withdrawn, Carlucci said: "No decision has been made. We are examining their security situation."

Carlucci said that while the Americans' safety is the responsibility of the United Nations, "obviously we are concerned about our people and will work with the U.N. on it."

Meanwhile, in Lebanon, a pro-Iranian group calling itself the Oppressed of the Earth said it had kidnaped Higgins, and released identity cards bearing his photograph.

It claimed that Higgins was doing undercover work for the "satanic CIA."

U.S. officials have denied that Higgins has links with the CIA, and U.N. Undersecretary General Marrack Goulding echoed that denial today in a news conference at Naqoura, Lebanon.

"We do not recruit spies. Everyone here works for the United Nations," he said.

Demands Release of 300

The group said it will release Higgins after a complete Israeli withdrawal from its security zone in south Lebanon. It also demanded the release of an estimated 300 Lebanese and Palestinian prisoners held in Khiam detention camp in south Lebanon and the immediate cessation of U.S. activity in Lebanon.

It was the second responsibility claim in two days, but it was the first to be accompanied by any proof. The first came Thursday in a call from a man claiming to speak for a previously unknown group calling itself the Islamic Revolutionary Brigades.

In a rescue attempt, Shia Muslim militiamen spent a second day searching rain-swept citrus groves and cave-lined valleys for Higgins.

The searchers, who belong to the Amal militia headed by Justice Minister Nabih Berri, also seized six activists of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah in pre-dawn house raids in Tyre and accused them of involvement in the plot.

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