WASHINGTON (Dec. 18)
The State Department said today that it will ask Iraq to extradite Mohammed Abbas if the high-ranking Palestine Liberation Organization official, believed to have masterminded the hijacking of the Italian liner Achille Lauro, is in the Arab country.
But State Department deputy spokesman Charles Redman said the United States has no “confirmation” that Abbas was in Iraq after the hijacking, except for press reports, and doesn’t know where he is now.
In addition, Redman said that the Iraqis “have indicated publicly that they don’t believe Abbas is subject to extradition under the U.S.-Iraq extradition treaty.”
Secretary of State George Shultz on his way to Yugoslavia yesterday reportedly accused Iraq of appearing to give safe haven to Abbas, but rejected a suggestion that Iraq would be again listed by the U.S. as a country that supports terrorism.
“People like Abbas move from one country to another,” Redman quoted Shultz as saying. “We’re not going to put every country he goes to on the terrorist list.”
Redman said that “we have put the Iraqis formally on notice that we will formally request Abbas’ extradition if we obtain confirmation that Abbas is in Iraq.”
Redman referred to Shultz’s statement at a press conference in Belgrade yesterday in which the Secretary pounded a table in anger after Yugoslav Foreign Minister Raif Dizdarevic said that in speaking of terrorism “one must also view the causes that lead to it.” Shultz had earlier expressed “my disappointment” that Abbas had been allowed to go through Yugoslavia.
“I’d like to add a point, if I may, on the question of causes,” Shultz said, interrupting the Foreign Minister. “Hijacking the Italian ship, murdering an American torturing and holding a whole bunch of other Americans, is not justified by any cause that I know of. There is no connection with any cause. It’s wrong.”
Shultz then pounded on the table twice and added, “and the international community must step up to this problem and deal with it unequivocally, firmly, definitively. There must be no place to hide for people who do that kind of thing.”
Meanwhile, Redman said that both the State Department and Justice Department still had “under review” demands by private groups for the Justice Department to indict PLO leader Yasir Arafat for the murder in 1973 of Cleo Noel, U.S. Ambassador to the Sudan, and his Charge d’Affairs, George Moore. There are reports that the U.S. has tapes and other information that the terrorists did not murder the two diplomats in Khartoum until they received a coded message from the PLO headquarters in Beirut where Arafat was at the time.
The effort was begun by Charles Lichenstein, a former Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, who is now a senior fellow at the Washington-based conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. He raised the issue with Attorney General Edwin Meese.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee has been distributing information about the issue. Noting Arafat’s role in worldwide terrorism, an AIPAC spokesman said, “You can’t have a serious anti-terror policy without dealing with the top figures.”
The latest to join the effort is the National Jewish Coalition whose chairman, Richard Fox, urged the Justice Department this week “to act promptly.” Fox noted that Sen. William Armstrong (R. Colo.), chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, has written Meese urging “a high priority to the resolution of this case.”
It is believed that if the U.S. does indict Arafat it would impede his ability to travel to Western Europe and to other countries friendly to the U.S.