U.S. Downplaying Syria’s Involvement with Abu Nidal’s Terrorist Group

The Reagan Administration, while focusing on Libya’s support for the terrorist attacks on the Rome and Vienna airports December 27, appears to be downplaying any Syrian involvement.

However, evidence emerged over the weekend that the members of terrorist Abu Nidal’s group who carried out the atrocities came from a camp in the Syrian controlled Bekaa Valley of eastern Lebanon and went through Damascus on their way to Europe.

But Secretary of State George Shultz said today he was “not able to say” to what extent the Syrian authorities knew anything in advance of the group’s plans. “Libya is clearly supporting terrorism in general,” Shultz said in an appearance on the CBS-TV program “Face the Nation. “He said Libya provides financial support to terrorist groups, “particularly the Abu Nidal group which is the group that perpetrated the latest catastrophe.”

He stressed that there is a “very definite Libyan connection with this and a whole pattern of terrorist activity.” But Shultz said that while “Syria has long been on our terrorist list,” a list the U.S. publishes of countries supporting terrorism, Syrian “behavior is rather different” from Libya’s. Explaining, he said he was referring to Syria’s “public attitude” and “we are working with Syria on a number of fronts in a constructive way.” While Shultz did not elaborate, the U.S. is believed to be working with Syria in an effort to get six American hostages held in Lebanon released.

In addition, although Shultz said at a State Department press conference last Thursday that he did not hold out much hope for Syrian participation in the Middle East peace process, the U.S. for the last several months has continued to hold the door open for Syrian participation.

SYRIA ANGERED OVER REMARKS

Syria, meanwhile, is reportedly angered over remarks by Robert Oakley, head of the State Department’s counter-terrorist office, that the U.S. might impose the same economic sanctions on Syria that it did on Libya. Speaking to journalists last Thursday, Oakley said there was strong evidence that Syria supports the Abu Nidal group.

He suggested that Syria follow Iraq’s example and expel Abu Nidal who apparently divides his time between Syria and Libya.

In his TV interview today, Shultz said Oakley is “doing an outstanding job.” But he rejected the possibility of sanctions against Syria, although he noted that this did not depend on the U.S., but “on what other countries do. I hope that Syria will not do things that will make that necessary and my guess is that they won’t.”

PEACE MEANS SITTING DOWN WITH ISRAEL

Shultz repeated today his assertions at his State Department press conference last Thursday that the terrorists are opposed to the Middle East peace process. “Peace means that the countries in the Middle East need to sit down with Israel and make peace,” he said.

He noted that when some, like the late President Anwar Sadat of Egypt or King Hussein of Jordan, attempted to make peace with Israel, the terrorists tried to kill them. The terrorists are “not for peace,” Shultz said. “They’re really not for the Palestinian cause. The Palestinians need a better break … They need peace process. They’re not going to get it through this violence.”

The Secretary of State had pointed out Thursday that “The violence and terrorism in the Middle East has not achieved anything for the Palestinians.” He said he has always been concerned with the fate of the Palestinians who he called a “deprived people.” “They deserve a better fate,” he added.

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