Anglican special negotiator Terry Waite is expected back in Beirut early Tuesday, less than 48 hours after leaving for London to confer with U.S. officials on the American hostage situation.
"I am going back to Beirut because I believe there is still hope," Waite said after talks with officials at the U.S. Embassy there, according to news agency reports. "I think there's a good chance we're going to go forward again," he said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Charles Redman confirmed that Waite had met with U.S. officials in Britain, but Redman refused to comment further. Other department officials said information about Waite's efforts was being held tightly among a small group of senior administration officials, most of whom are in Geneva for the summit.
Reginald Bartholomew, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, met with Secretary of State George P. Shultz in Geneva yesterday. Shultz said he had summoned Bartholomew to Geneva because "we had a sense of motion" on the efforts to release the hostages.
Coinciding with Waite's negotiations, the Islamic Jihad organization said in Beirut today that one of four French kidnaping victims it is holding is "pitifully sick," and warned France against stalling in efforts to end the hostage crisis. This was the first communique received by foreign news agencies in connection with the missing Frenchmen in months. The typewritten statement said the unnamed hostage's condition could endanger his life.
The authenticity of such statements is difficult to verify. Marcel Fontaine, 43, a vice consul at the French Embassy, and Protocol Officer Marcel Carton were abducted at gunpoint in West Beirut on March 22. Jean-Paul Kauffmann, a French journalist, and researcher Michel Seurat were seized by gunmen on May 26.
Special negotiator Waite said here that he was primarily involved in the case of the four Americans, but he did not rule out assistance in securing the freedom of the French hostages.
Today's statement pressed for movement. Islamic Jihad cautioned the "French government against the consequences of stalling in the current negotiations," and warned that it would hold Paris "fully responsible for what may happen to the hostages as a result of the delay." It remained unknown whether Waite, who will stop in Paris en route to Beirut, will consult with French officials or whether he is planning any mediation on behalf of the French hostages.
The U.S. officials in Washington reiterated statements they made last week that the United States is trying to use every avenue of communication to those holding the hostages and that Waite's mission is an avenue that the administration wants to explore fully. But they stressed that they did not know enough about Waite's contacts to say whether his efforts show promise.
However, the officials reiterated that the United States, while willing to listen to what the abductors have to say, has no intention of abandoning its policy of refusing to negotiate with terrorists.
In another development, an obscure Shiite Moslem group, the Organization for the Oppressed in the World, claimed responsibility last night for the disappearance of four Jews in West Beirut and offered to release them in exchange for Lebanese allegedly held in the southern Lebanese village of Khiam in territory under the control of a the pro-Israeli South Lebanon Army.