Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite returned to Beirut today with fresh proposals for the Moslem captors of four American hostages, amid hopes that he would win their freedom through a Christmas gesture of peace.
Waite, a lay representative of Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, told reporters at a news conference that he would offer "very reasonable proposals" to the kidnapers of the missing Americans. If his new suggestions are accepted, Waite said, "there is a definite way forward."
This was Waite's third visit to Lebanon since four U.S. hostages appealed in letters to President Reagan and the archbishop of Canterbury last month to help bring them home to their families by Christmas.
Waite has been denied a visa to Kuwait, where he had hoped to discuss the fate of 17 Shiite Moslem prisoners held since December 1983 on charges of bombing western embassies there. Islamic Jihad, the secretive organization claiming to hold the American hostages and four Frenchmen in Lebanon, is demanding the release of the 17 detainees in Kuwait in exchange for the western hostages. Kuwait has publicly refused to bow to pressure on that issue.
In an interview with western journalists last weekend, Sheik Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, Lebanon's highest-ranking Shiite cleric, said that he had tried "more than anyone else" to work for the release of the four Americans but had come up against "a blank wall."
Waite conceded that "the situation is still very complicated." Fadlallah emphasized that he had no precise details on the identity of the Americans' captors or their whereabouts.
Although Waite's arrival here just a few days before Christmas has raised hopes for the release of the Americans, he told journalists that the timing of his return was "partly coincidental." The church envoy, who has skillfully used the media to communicate with the kidnapers, declared, however, that if "we could see peaceful gestures coming from the Lebanon, that would have a great impression across the world and perhaps that is not too wild a dream to hope for."
The hostages, Terry Anderson, Beirut bureau chief of The Associated Press, David Jacobsen, director of the American University Hospital, Thomas Sutherland, dean of the university's department of agriculture, and the Rev. Lawrence Jenco, head of Catholic Relief Services in Lebanon, were seized by gunmen from west Beirut. Islamic Jihad announced the execution of William Buckley, a U.S. Embassy political officer, on Oct. 4 but his body has not been found. Nothing has been heard from Peter Kilburn, a librarian at the university who disappeared mysteriously last December.
Persian Gulf press sources were quoted in the Beirut daily An Nahar today as saying that Waite met secretly with a senior Kuwaiti envoy in Geneva two days ago. Waite confirmed that he met with several persons in Geneva but said he could not be more specific.
United Press International reported that a British journalist kidnaped March 25 appeared on a videotape message, looking haggard and appealing for Britain to help win his freedom.
The tape of Alec Collett, 64, was flung from a car Friday night near the An Nahar newspaper. Collett said on the recording that his captors, the Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Moslems, want British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to free "a number of Arabs and Moslems" jailed in Britain as the price for his release.
["I assure you that time is short," Collett said on the tape. "This party that has taken me wants to reach an end to my situation quietly."]