U.S. officials quickly denied yesterday a remark attributed to Muammar Qaddafi that contacts with an unnamed U.S. envoy had helped defuse the possibility of a military confrontation with the United States over the attacks on airports in Rome and Vienna.
A senior administration official said, "We're not aware of any American ambassador contacting him. No such contacts have been authorized." The official also said he was unaware of any effort by Qaddafi to approach U.S. officials. "He knows what he can do to defuse the situation," the official added.
A translation of Qaddafi's remark in Arabic was reported by NBC News' "Meet the Press," which had a taped interview with Qaddafi.
Qaddafi, who spoke to reporters from a tractor in a green barley field near Tripoli, was one of a number of officials making appearances on U.S. television shows to discuss the airport raids and the possibiity of reprisals against Libya.
Sens. Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) and former White House national security affairs adviser Robert C. McFarlane said they doubted the United States would take military action against Libya.
Although the administration has refused to comment on the possibility of U.S. reprisals, some naval forces have been deployed to the Mediterranean Sea and others have been alerted to stand by in case they are needed to help the United States in dealing with Qaddafi's government.
Lugar, chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said on "Meet the Press" that he thinks that the administration has not established a connection between Libya and the attacks. Leahy, vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said on the same program that he doubted the United States would retaliate, because "the administration seems to be so torn apart at what's going to happen here."
But they and McFarlane, appearing on ABC News' "This Week With David Brinkley," said they think that Qaddafi's regime has close ties to terrorist elements of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Leahy said he did not accept Qaddafi's assertion that the PLO has no training camps in Libya.
And McFarlane, who left the administration last month, said, "I believe there are indeed training camps in Libya." He also said he thinks that Qaddafi was behind the December airport attacks, although, he said, "I don't have any evidence."
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, also appearing on the Brinkley show, accused Libya of helping the terrorist group led by Abu Nidal that has been blamed for the airport attacks.