Secretary of State George P. Shultz, pounding a table in red-faced anger, tonight publicly told Yugoslavia's foreign minister that the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro in October was an instance of terrorist murder, "not justified by any cause that I know of."
Shultz's outburst occurred at a joint news conference after the foreign minister, Raif Dizdarevic, said Yugoslavia distinguishes between terrorism and "the struggle against colonialism, against aggression, and racism." He added that "when speaking of terrorism, one must also view the causes that lead to it."
Dizdarevic also reiterated Yugoslavia's support of the Palestine Liberation Organization as "the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." He said that his government had nothing further to say about its refusal to arrest Mohammed Abbas, a member of the PLO executive committee and the alleged mastermind of the Achille Lauro piracy in which an elderly crippled American was murdered.
Shultz's outburst dramatically changed the tone of what had been a placid news conference filled largely with references to Yugoslav-American friendship.
"The hijacking of 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," Shultz added. "There's no connection with any cause." Thumping his fist on the table, he said in a rising voice, "It's wrong, and the international community must step up to this problem and deal with it unequivocably, firmly and definitively. There must be no place to hide for people who do that kind of thing."
In a calmer voice, Shultz turned to Dizdarevic, saying, "And you probably feel the same way."
The visibly surprised Yugoslav replied that his government had condemned the Achille Lauro piracy. But he also insisted that "the acts of individual Palestinians should not be confused with the policy of the PLO."
"Obviously we disagree on this matter," Dizdarevic added.
Shultz's outburst, which came as he ended a visit to three East European countries, appeared to reflect continuing frustration over Abbas' escape after the hijacking in October.
U.S. fighter planes later forced an Egyptian jetliner carrying the four hijackers and Abbas to land in Italy. Although Italian authorities arrested and charged the hijackers, they permitted Abbas, who had an Iraqi diplomatic passport, to leave Italy aboard a Yugoslav airliner. Yugoslavia subsequently rejected a U.S. request for his arrest and extradition and allowed him to leave the country quietly.
After initial anger, the United States elected not to let the matter disrupt U.S.-Yugoslav relations, and the Abbas case had gone largely unmentioned between the two governments until it broke through the surface of Shultz's remarks tonight.
His emotional statement also contrasted with his subdued attitude earlier today when he broke a long silence to confirm that Abbas, following his departure from Yugoslavia, had been "welcomed" in Iraq and that Iraqi authorities have rebuffed U.S. requests for Abbas' arrest. The State Department for weeks has refused to comment on such reports.
Nevertheless, Shultz said the United States plans no action against President Saddam Hussein's Iraqi government. He specifically rejected the idea of restoring Iraq to the U.S. list of countries officially regarded as aiding terrorism.
Iraq was removed from the terrorism list three years ago. Since then, the administration, which has tilted toward Iraq in its Persian Gulf war against Iran and which has sought Iraqi support in rejuvenating the Middle East peace process, has insisted that Iraq had stopped aiding terrorist groups.
"We certainly have raised this issue with the Iraqis," Shultz said aboard his plane while en route from Budapest. "I think it's a real problem. With respect to Yugoslavia, he passed through here. With respect to Iraq, he seems to have been welcomed there. That's different, and it constitutes much more of a problem."
When reporters asked about possible U.S. action, Shultz said: "We're not in a position to go and do something about it. We're not going to take some kind of military action or something. We protest. We make our views known about it."
Asked if Iraq would be put on the terrorism list, Shultz said, "We don't have any plan to do that."