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State Department Insists Red Cross Still Represents U.S. in Hostage Talks

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A State Department spokesman said today that the International Red Cross continues to represent the United States and four other governments in negotiations with Palestinian commandos for the release of hostages still held by them in Jordan. According to Robert J. McCloskey, the Red Cross “continues to function in Jordan” and “the United States looks to the I.R.C. to continue its efforts.” Mr. McCloskey’s statement at a briefing for newsmen conflicted with a statement by a Red Cross spokesman in Geneva yesterday that “from now on it will be up to the governments concerned to negotiate directly for the release of the hostages.” Mr. McCloskey said the IRC was negotiating on behalf of five governments–United States. Britain, West Germany, Switzerland and Israel. He said the five governments continued in close consultation in Berne where they were meeting this morning, but could not say “with any certainty” whether they had any new proposals before them. “The common position, as I understand it, is that none of these governments would make a decision to release any Arabs until all (hostages) held by the Palestinians are released,” Mr. McCloskey said. He insisted that the Red Cross was negotiating for all five, including Israel.

Mr. McCloskey gave newsmen the latest figures on the number of hostages still held in Jordan and a breakdown of their nationalities. He stressed that the information came from several different sources and represented only the best available estimate. According to Mr. McCloskey’s “best information” 370 former hostages departed from Jordan leaving behind “as many as” 55 passengers and crew of the three hijacked airliners. Of the possible 55, Mr. McCloskey said, 38 “may be” United States citizens and 23 are “confirmed” to be U.S. citizens. Mr. McCloskey said that of the 38 possible citizens, as many as 19 have dual nationality, meaning that they hold Israeli as well as U.S. citizenship. He said the other hostages are of West German, Swiss, British and Dutch nationality. None of Israeli nationality was mentioned in the information received from Jordan, he said. (A Government spokesman said in Bonn today that West Germany might have to act alone for the release of its nationals. Konrad Ahlers’ remark seemed to contradict an earlier press conference statement that all governments concerned must maintain a united front in negotiations with the hijackers. Pressed by newsmen, he said “theoretically there is a possibility that West Germany will hold bilateral talks” with the guerrillas.)

Mr. McCloskey said the hijackers have made no demands on the U.S. for the release of its citizens. Secretary of State William P. Rogers met for several hours yesterday with top aides to consider what might he done to free the American hostages. Mr. Rogers spoke on the telephone several times with President Nixon to keep him abreast of the latest developments. Officials observed that the U.S., with the largest number of hostages at stake, holds no Arabs in custody with which to negotiate their release. One source said yesterday that the release of the Americans probably depended upon fulfilment of guerrilla demands by the four other countries involved.

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