Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite returned to Lebanon today with a strong appeal to the captors of American and other hostages to display Islamic good will and with suggestions that he has "important" messages from U.S. officials to the captors of four Americans.
Waite, a representative of Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury, returned here after two days of talks with U.S., British and French officials on his efforts to gain the release of western hostages, some of them held here for more than a year. But, in talks with reporters, he refused to go into details about what he said were intricate negotiations involving those officials and Islamic Jihad, the shadowy Moslem fundamentalist group that has claimed responsibility for many of the kidnapings.
Asked whether he had brought up Islamic Jihad's demand for the release of 17 prisoners held by Kuwait in his talks with U.S. officials, Waite said, "I don't want to discuss what I said to the American officials. I think what was said to them and what was said to me will be a matter for private discussion."
Waite, reading from a prepared statement, thanked the Americans' captors for placing their trust in him. "They took a risk and they should know that I will honor their trust," he said. "I value my contact with the group holding the four American hostages but I would like them to know I have important things to say to them."
Referring to his talks here last week, he said, "I believe that last time a good step forward was taken. I think it is now possible to take another step forward."
Waite made his first trip here last Wednesday and said he established contact with the group holding four Americans. On Sunday, he flew to London, where he briefed Runcie on the progress in his mission and met with U.S. and other officials. He returned by way of Paris.
With him on the plane today were a French diplomat and a French doctor, commissioned by their government to work toward the treatment and release of an ailing man who is among four French hostages. Islamic Jihad said yesterday that one of the Frenchmen, whom it did not identify, was "pitifully sick" and in danger of dying.
The physician, Dr. Razah Raad, a cardiologist of Lebanese origin, said he was in Beirut twice recently. He reportedly negotiated with a Shiite Moslem faction on behalf of the missing Frenchmen.
Waite noted today that besides the foreigners, there are many other hostages in Lebanon -- a reference to thousands of Lebanese Christian and Moslem citizens victimized by sectarian-inspired kidnapings and counter-kidnapings.
"I want to make a special appeal on behalf of all hostages held in this lovely country," he said.
He praised Islam as a "noble faith" and said that "true Islam does not deprive innocents of their liberty; true Islam recognizes God-given freedom."
"We want mercy, justice and compassion for captors and captives," he said, urging the Moslem captors to "show the world that compassion, justice and mercy are always stronger than the sword."
Waite, who had said very little to reporters on his previous visit, acknowledged today that he was using the news media to transmit messages to the underground group.
"At certain times, the only way in which it has been possible for me to get messages back has been through the press," he said.
The Americans known to be held captive are Terry Anderson, Associated Press bureau chief; the Rev. Lawrence Jenco, of Catholic Relief Services; and two American University of Beirut officials -- David Jacobsen and Thomas Sutherland.