NEW YORK (Sep. 20)
Civil war continued in Jordan today, its outcome still in doubt, as it became clear that the United States was considering an airlift of American residents out of that beleaguered country and possibly, intervention to save King Hussein’s shaky regime if it appeared to be threatened by outside forces. The picture that emerged from Jewish Telegraphic Agencies dispatches compiled in various capitals over the week-end was one of violent flux into which Israel, other Arab states, the U.S. and the Soviet Union could be drawn. In Jeopardy in Amman are 450 Americans including 40 attached to the U.S. Embassy. There are also 54 hijacked airliner passengers, 38 of them Americans, held at secret hideouts in Jordan by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and now entering their third week in captivity. Negotiations for their release have been stalled. The International Red Cross team in Amman reported yesterday that it had no contact with the terrorists who are locked in battle with King Hussein’s forces. The PFLP has warned that all Americans in Jordan, including the hostages, would be killed if the U.S. intervened on behalf of Hussein. Defense Secretary Melvin Laird said Friday that so far as was known the hostages were safe. But fear mounted when the PFLP reportedly rejected a Swiss request to Arab governments to secure the transfer of the hostages to another country where an exchange could be arranged. The request was made in view of the serious fighting in Jordan. According to reports from London, the Jordanian Army knows where the hostages are being held and is exercising care in its military operations in those areas.
BRITAIN REPORTEDLY INCREASING PRESSURE ON ISRAEL ON HOSTAGES
The British Government reportedly has increased its pressure on Israel to exchange some Israel-held terrorists for the hostages. It is understood that the British and West German governments are impatient with the slow pace of negotiations being conducted by the International Red Cross. Israel has said repeatedly that it would not make a deal with the PFLP. (The Jordanian crisis was discussed at today’s Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, but no hints emerged as to what transpired. Acting Premier Yigal Allon has requested all Cabinet Ministers to refrain from commenting on the situation in Jordan. It is clear, nevertheless, that Israel will not intervene as long as it does not consider its interests to be in Jeopardy. However, the survival of the hijacked airline hostages is regarded as a matter vital to Israel and any harm to them would be regarded as jeopardizing Israeli interests, sources in Jerusalem said. The United States Charge d’Affaires in Tel Aviv, Owen Zurhellen, and his First Secretary had a lengthy meeting with Defense Minister Moshe Dayan Friday, presumably on the situation in Jordan. U.S. Embassy cars have been seen driving through the West Bank, apparently to make sure that Israel was not preparing for armed intervention in Jordan.)
The Defense Department announced yesterday that the Atlantic and Sixth fleets have moved to bolster American forces in the Eastern Mediterranean. More C-130 transport planes have been deployed at airfields in Europe and Turkey. They could be used to evacuate Americans from Jordan, to fly in re-enforcements to guard the U.S. Embassy, or to carry in airborne troops for a full scale intervention. President Nixon hinted Friday that such action was under consideration. The White House subsequently denied that any decision had been made on American action in the Jordanian crisis. But the President’s thinking was clear from remarks he reportedly made in private briefings for news editors in Chicago Friday. The Chicago Sun-Times did not attribute its information to the President or any other source, but asserted in its first two editions yesterday that “The U.S. is prepared to intervene directly in the Jordanian civil war should Syria and Iraq enter the conflict and tip the military balance against the government forces loyal to King Hussein.” The paper killed the story after the first two editions, apparently after a call from White House press secretary, Ronald Ziegler, but included the information in a later story. There were indications that the White House was not unduly disturbed by the leak of Mr. Nixon’s off-the-record remarks to newsmen on the subject. Mr. Ziegler said at a briefing yesterday that the United States had “no direct commitment” for support of Hussein’s Government. He declined comment on whether there might be an “indirect commitment.” An editorial in Krasnaya Zvezda, of the Soviet Defense Ministry, charged that “hot heads” in Washington are seeking to supply more arms to Israel and to bring about “direct armed intervention by the United States on the side of Israel.”