The Reagan administration continued to pressure reluctant Western allies yesterday to accept a U.S. military operation against Libya if one is launched, while congressional leaders asked the White House to consult with Congress before initiating any attack.
White House chief of staff Donald T. Regan told reporters that the administration was "coming close" to linking Libya to the bombing last Saturday of a West Berlin discotheque popular with U.S. soldiers. The blast killed a U.S. Army sergeant and a Turkish woman and injured 204 persons.
Regan declined to say whether there would be an attack, but when he was asked whether "we can expect the other shoe to drop," replied, "I wouldn't think so. We just have to keep looking." At his news conference Wednesday President Reagan said he would authorize action if the evidence showed conclusively that Libya was responsible for the bombing.
Administration sources acknowledged that U.S. allies were balking at endorsement of military action against Libya. One of them blamed "premature disclosure" of military contingency plans. A senior official said that "a final decision has yet to be taken" on a U.S. response.
There were also growing signs of restiveness on Capitol Hill, where Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) was described as annoyed by the lack of administration consultation with Congress.
Lugar talked to White House officials and then sent a message to Secretary of State George P. Shultz asking him to go before his panel to review U.S. policy toward Libya.
"Review is needed in light of current military maneuvers in the Mediterranean and indications that some type of retaliation for the bombing in West Berlin is under discussion," the message said. "We've been working together now for 16 months to forge a partnership between the administration and Congress on foreign policy; I think an early meeting with the committee on Libya would help further this goal."
Senate Minority Leader Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) also said that before any action was taken he would expect Reagan to consult Congress and U.S. allies.
Senate Majority Leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said that Reagan would have support "for whatever he would want to do" in reponse to Libyan-supported terrorism, but Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.) said congressional support for an operation would depend on the circumstances and would have to be "based on some theory of self-defense."
An aide to Lugar said he thinks that the administration is required to consult with Congress under the war powers act, although he did not cite it in his note to Shultz because this would be "a red flag" to the administration. Reagan, following the example of presidential predecessors in similar situations, declined to invoke the law when U.S. naval forces attacked Libyan patrol boats and a missile site last month.
A bipartisan group of 10 House members and Sen. Mark O. Hatfield (R-Ore.) sent a telegram to Reagan saying that it is "crystal clear" that the war powers act requires consultation with Congress before hostilities are initiated.
Reagan, meanwhile, left by helicopter for a weekend at Camp David, Md., after waving off questions from reporters about the Libyan situation. Administration sources said that military planners continued to refine strike plans in the event Reagan orders a retaliation for the West Berlin bombing.
Two aircraft carriers, the USS America and USS Coral Sea, continued to orbit in the central Mediterranean last night. Their bombers and fighters are already in reach of Libya in case a strike is ordered against any of the long list of targets the Joint Chiefs of Staff have mapped out.
An administration official said that U.S. diplomats had met with their counterparts "in every major capital in Europe" in an effort to persuade them to support a U.S. military action if it occurs or, at least, refrain from criticizing it. The official acknowledged that "we still have some convincing to do."
The administration also responded to a charge made Thursday by a highly placed but unnamed U.S. official that the U.S. intelligence community had warned "days before" last Saturday's bombing of the La Belle discotheque that such attacks were imminent in the area.
A Defense Department official, in a statement coordinated with others in the administration, said, "there was no advance warning of attack against La Belle or any other specific site. We understand there were advance reports of possible attack against unspecified locations in West Berlin where American servicemen gather. Security officers had begun to take precautions and warned U.S. personnel about possible danger, including at various nightspots.
"Authorities had reached some sites but had not reached La Belle. They were five to 15 minutes away and en route."