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Public Papers - 1989 - August

Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters on the Hostage Situation in Lebanon

1989-08-02

Q. Mr. President, are you going to discuss the hostage crisis? Do you think that there is -- any other hostage is in danger?

The President. Well, we're considering that that might well be the case, given statements that we've seen. And yes, indeed, my old friend -- we have started to discuss it, and I'm not going to put words in his mouth, but he expressed his concern. You're free to say something if you want to. You're our guest, sir.

The Foreign Minister. Mr. President, I would like to express our condemnation for such a terrorist act which we think is not aimed against the United States, but against all humans everywhere. And this man, Colonel Higgins, is an international figure. He represented the United Nations. He's American citizen, but he is a world citizen. And the attack on him is really against us all. And we think, worldwide, not only condemnation but action should be taken to stop such acts.

Q. What action are you going to take, Mr. President, or are you considering taking?

The President. Well, you can just rest assured that we're going about our business in a -- I'd say, a prudent way -- with a heavy heart, obviously, because of the feeling that the Minister expressed on behalf of the whole world, but the feeling that I feel just so personally about what happened to Colonel Higgins. But I would just leave it, Helen [Helen Thomas, United Press International], that -- please assume we are thinking prudently about this matter in every way possible.

We have exercised every diplomatic channel that I can think of -- some personal, some through our Secretary of State and our national security adviser. We've been in touch -- I have, personally -- with many world leaders; and our State Department has fleshed this out, so we're leaving no stone unturned. But regrettably, as you know, sir, we're dealing with less than a full deck when it comes to information. It is very hard when you're dealing with this kind of cowardice and this kind of dastardly act to get all the information that you need to make a decision.

Q. Mr. President, do you feel you've received assurances from any of the other countries that you've contacted that they will be able to help in the situation? Is there anything you can tell us today that you feel -- have some new confidence at all?

The President. I feel that everybody I have talked to -- and including my distinguished guests here -- would do everything they can to try to help. And yet, they face the same problems that we face when it comes to information and trying to find out exactly what happened. We are not dealing with all the facts. But I've had assurance after assurance from world leaders that they want to help. I'm sure you know, I was very recently on the phone with Margaret Thatcher and many others -- several others -- today and quite a few yesterday, and so it transcends religion, it transcends alliances.

It gets in, as the Minister said, to a matter that concerns the entire civilized world, and so we will keep on trying. And in the meantime, we've got to go about our business, and I'm doing that. But I don't want anyone in this country or around the world to think that it is anything of other than tremendous concern. But we must prudently move on with the business of our country.

Q. Mr. President, would it help if the Israelis release Sheik Obeid?

The President. I have made clear the position of the United States that I think -- or, at least of everyone held against their will, would be a good thing.

Q. How about the ship movements, Mr. President? Are you planning any kind of military action?

The President. We're prudently planning.

Q. Like what?

The President. Like that's all I've got to say about it. [Laughter]

Q. Thank you.

The President. You see Helen hasn't changed. [Laughter]

Note: The President spoke at 1:31 p.m. in the Oval Office at the White House following discussions with Foreign Minister Muhammad bin Mubarak Al Khalifa of Bahrain. Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, USMC, chief of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, was kidnaped on February 17, 1988, and executed by pro-Iranian terrorists on July 31, 1989.

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