Moments in U.S. Diplomatic History

The Achille Lauro Hijacking — “These sons of bitches must be prosecuted”


sequestro-achille-lauro-1985-300x227On October 7, 1985, four men, including mastermind Muhammad Zaidan, aka Mohammed Abul al-Abbas, from the Palestine Liberation Front (PLF) hijacked the Italian MS Achille Lauro liner off the coast of Egypt, as she was sailing from Alexandria to Ashdod, Israel. Holding the passengers and crew hostage, they directed the vessel to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons. As many of the hostages were American tourists, President Ronald Reagan deployed the Navy’s SEAL Team Six and Delta Force to stand by and prepare for a possible rescue attempt to free the vessel from its hijackers.

On October 8, after being refused permission by the Syrian government to dock, the hijackers murdered Leon Klinghoffer, a retired, wheelchair-bound Jewish American businessman, shooting him in the forehead and chest. They then forced the ship’s barber and a waiter to throw his body and wheelchair overboard. Klinghoffer’s wife, Marilyn, who did not witness the shooting, was told by the hijackers that he had been moved to the infirmary. She only learned the truth after the hijackers left the ship at Port Said. The PLO later denied that the hijackers were responsible for the murder, and suggested that Marilyn had killed her husband for insurance money. Over a decade later, in April 1996, PLF leader Zaidan accepted responsibility, and in 1997, the PLO reached a financial settlement with the Klinghoffer family.

The Achille Lauro headed back towards Port Said, and after two days of negotiations, the hijackers agreed to abandon the liner in exchange for safe conduct. They were flown towards Tunisia aboard an Egyptian commercial airliner. The next day, October 10, the four hijackers boarded an Egypt Air Boeing 737 airliner. The plane took off from Cairo at 4:15 p.m. EST and headed for Tunisia. President Reagan approved a plan to intercept the aircraft, and at 5:30 p.m., F-14 Tomcat fighters located the airliner 80 miles south of Crete. Without announcing themselves, they trailed the airliner as it was denied permission to land at Tunis. After a request to land at the Athens airport was likewise refused, the F-14s turned on their lights and flew wing-to-wing with the airliner. The aircraft was ordered to land at Sigonella, the NATO air base in Sicily, and the pilot complied, touching down at 6:45 p.m. The hijackers were arrested soon after. The other passengers on the plane (including Zaidan) were allowed to continue on to their destination, despite protests by the United States.

Nicholas Veliotes was the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt at the time and recounts the dramatic events of the hijacking, his frustrations in dealing with the Egyptian government and his diplomatic colleagues, as well as his now famous statement which caused such a stir in Egypt and elsewhere. Edmund J. Hull was at the time the deputy in the political section and would later serve as Ambassador to Yemen. Both were interviewed by Charles Stuart Kennedy, beginning in January 1990 and October 2005, respectively. You can also read Hull’s account of 9/11 as well as when the Palestinian terrorist organization kidnapped everyone at a reception in Khartoum and eventually murdered the U.S. ambassador and Deputy Chief of Mission. You can see other Moments on terrorism here.

 

There was clearly a split in the Egyptian government on how to handle this incident

VELIOTES: The Achille Lauro was an Italian cruise ship. Interestingly enough, it was named after the Mayor of Naples when I was in Naples, my first post. It belonged to the Lauro Lines….The ship arrived in Alexandria. Usually, many passengers got off, toured Alexandria, drove up to Cairo, visited the museums and the pyramids, and then rejoined the ship at Port Said. This particular group of Americans on the ship were well on in years. The vast majority of them left the ship [at Alexandria] to do the tour with everyone else. This left no more than 20 [American passengers] on the ship, most of whom were members of a particular synagogue in New Jersey. As it turned out, this cruise was kind of a farewell voyage to say goodbye to their friend, Marilyn Klinghoffer, who was dying of cancer and who, indeed, died a few months after the terrorist incident. Her husband was crippled and in a wheelchair. So the Klinghoffer group stayed on the ship. They were the principal victims of what ensued.

A group of Palestinian terrorists from the Arab Liberation Front, headed by someone called Mohammed Abul al-Abbas, we learned later, hijacked the ship [between Alexandria and Port Said].

And then the hijackers just took the ship [throughout the eastern Mediterranean]. Among other things that I learned was just how big the Mediterranean was. We didn’t know where [the ship] was. All of our Navy and all of our Air Force was out looking for it. Everyone else was looking for it. We kept track of it, frankly — at least at first — from some intercepted radio broadcasts. The Secretary of State, for example, called me and started giving me instructions on what to tell the Egyptians to do when the ship came to them. I said, “That’s fine, but it’s not here.” He said, “I’ve just been informed that it’s steaming in Egyptian waters.” I said, “No, it’s off the port of Tartus, in [southern] Syria. We have an intercepted exchange of messages between the Syrians and the ship.”

Well, it eventually showed up in Egyptian waters. We asked the Egyptians to keep it in international waters and keep it isolated, while we headed for it as soon as possible. You keep it in international waters so that, if we were to mount an assault on it, no one could blame the Egyptians. You keep them isolated from the press, so that, we’ve learned, you can dampen their enthusiasm or longevity if they can’t advertise their point of view. The objective is to get the incident over quickly for essentially humanitarian reasons.

There was clearly a split in the Egyptian government on how to handle this incident. The Defense Minister was determined that these people [the hijackers] should be apprehended. The security people strongly believed that Egypt would soon arrest these criminals, who had stained Egypt’s honor — after all, the hijacking took place in Egypt — and put them on trial. The Foreign Ministry and the Presidency –and I think it was more the President — just wanted to dispose of the problem. In part they were afraid that if they put them on trial in Egypt, there would be a lot of people who would support them. And President Mubarak could just see — God, here are the television cameras, hundreds of people cheering these murderers for killing a crippled Jew….

I spent one full day–first, fighting with the British, French, Italian, and German ambassadors, who wished to accept an invitation from the terrorists, conveyed through the Foreign Minister, to meet with them to discuss the situation:  the Italian Ambassador, because it was an Italian boat; the British Ambassador, because there were British passengers on board; the German Ambassador, because there were a lot of German passengers on board; and us, because Americans were the major group of hostages. I spent several hours talking them out of this, just asking them please to check back with their governments. I finally got the German Ambassador to agree. I said that this could do no good at all. It would prolong the agony, and I urged them not to do it.

Before we broke up, we were called to the Foreign Ministry, where the signals had changed. The [Egyptian] Foreign Minister gave us 20 minutes to consider agreeing–on behalf of our governments–that we would not seek to extradite these people or prosecute them, in exchange for their surrender to the Egyptians immediately. The British Ambassador was still a bit annoyed because I had kept him from his 15 minutes–or 15 seconds–of fame. He seemed ready to agree.

reaganI said, “Well, I don’t know what [British Prime Minister]Mrs. [Margaret] Thatcher  thinks about it, but I know what President Ronald Reagan thinks about it.” I said to the Foreign Minister, “What are you asking? Are you asking Nick Veliotes, as an [individual for a] humanitarian gesture, or are you asking the Ambassador of the United States?” I said, “In the first case, sure, I can say that I would use my good offices with my government–I could do all of that. But as Ambassador I have to tell you that my government’s policy is that we make no deals with terrorists and that we seek their prosecution.”

I said, “And you give us 20 minutes and then what? We would have to wash our hands of this.” There were 400 people on the ship, including 20 Americans. I decided to call the bluff. I said, “No. Certainly, they would understand that I must ask my government for instructions.” So I got an open telephone line to Mike Armacost [then Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs]. And finally, and reluctantly, the other Ambassadors said that they would also ask for instructions. I said that we could not leave the ministry. We were besieged. There were hundreds of journalists there. Because no matter what anyone says, the whole story was going to be on the news wires and could prejudice the lives of our people. So I said that we should stay at the Foreign Ministry. I asked the Foreign Minister to give each one of us a room.

So we all got on the phone [to our governments]. The Italian Ambassador was the first to come to me and say, “My government says ‘all right,’ But he sort of winked and said, “You know, we’re not going to adhere to this.” I said, “Well, you don’t understand. If my government gives a promise, my government gives a promise.” The German Ambassador came to me and said, “My government is willing to say ‘Yes’ [to the Egyptian Foreign Minister’s proposal]. But you see, that’s not the whole story. My government will agree not to seek extradition. But according to our law, any of the victims can seek redress through the courts.”

I said, “OK, I understand that. Thank you.” I said that I still have no answer and that I won’t get an answer. I said, “I’m not going to get a `Yes’ [to the Egyptian proposal]. We could play with language. The language would say certain things, but not `Yes,’ and I could prepare a proposed form of words for the Foreign Minister. But not anything that tells them that they can get off scot free. My government doesn’t believe in it, and I don’t believe in it.” I’d already told the Foreign Minister that if he was really sure that no one had been hurt, that the earlier report that an American was killed was not true, then it might be easier for my government to be less enthusiastic about its pursuit of these hijackers. But I said that he would get no formal undertaking [not to pursue the hijackers].

“These sons of bitches must be prosecuted”

Thatcher-locThen the British Ambassador came to me and said, “Take your time.” I asked why, and he said, “It’s lucky I called. The minute I talked to whomever he talked to, he said, ‘No. No one is going to make any decision on this except Prime Minister Thatcher, and she’s at the Conservative Party conference. We can’t get to her for three or four hours.'” The British Ambassador said, “I doubt very much that she will want to announce to the Conservative Party conference that she has changed her attitude on terrorism.”

Hours went by. And then the ambassadors were called in and told that the Foreign Minister had received a phone call, informing him that the hijackers had surrendered to the Egyptian authorities and that the incident was over. I told the Foreign Minister, “Congratulations,” and I shook his hand. He turned to the other ambassadors and said, “I hope you’ll remember what Ambassador Veliotes just said.” I said, “Well, my congratulations meant that you ended this incident without loss of life.”

Then I went back to the Embassy, called the Defense Minister, and asked him if he could get me a plane [to go to Port Said]. I said, “I’ve got to fly to Port Said. I’ve got to get on that ship and I’m bringing a consular officer and our doctor.”…With me was Edmund Hull, a political officer…. His wife is a Palestinian. So we reached Port Said and boarded the ship. The Italian Ambassador had gone out to the ship earlier than we did, as he should have done. The minute I got on board the ship I knew that something had gone wrong.

The Egyptians claimed that they hadn’t [known about Klinghofer’s murder], up to the time I saw the Foreign Minister at about 5:00 p.m.…We finally got out to the ship at about midnight. I knew that something awful had happened. In the first place, the crew was shell-shocked. No one was sure that all of them [the hijackers] had gone, because only four of them had left. The crew thought that there were about 10 hijackers. You know, I still understand Italian. I could hear the crew muttering.

By the time I reached the captain, the Italian Ambassador was there, the ship’s officers, and Captain La Rosa, who came up to me with tears in his eyes. He handed me Mr. Klinghoffer’s passport and he said, “I’m sorry. I did my best.” Then he started to cry. At that point I said, “Well, is his death confirmed?” The captain answered, “Yes.” I said, “I’ll have to contact my Embassy.”

They gave me a phone. I got through to Bill Clark, who was DCM. I told him that we must insist to the [Egyptian authorities] that there had been a death. An American had been murdered, and we must insist that these sons of bitches be prosecuted. That was the phrase I used….

The captain had been a real hero. He had risked his life to save at least one other life. Then he showed me his instructions. He had received instructions from his company that since he was still in international waters, he was to proceed immediately to complete the cruise. To go to Ashdod [Israel–the next scheduled port]. To continue as if nothing had happened. I said to him, “But you can’t. There’s been a murder. There’s going to be a prosecution. The [Egyptian] criminal authorities are going to want to come on board.” I said things like that.

He started to cry and said, “But what can I do? I’ll be finished if I don’t follow instructions.” I replied, “I know what we’ll do.” By this time the Egyptian military had come on board, [headed by] a major general. I said to the general, “Look, you’ve got to solve the [captain’s] problem. You should take this ship into port.” He nodded and disappeared. He came back and said, “I’ve just received instructions, captain, to take you into port.” Obviously, the Defense Minister had told him, “Hell, yes, get him into port.” So we went into Port Said.

Now all this time I had been assuming that the Egyptian government was going to arrest and prosecute the hijackers. That was confirmed by the senior Egyptian military officer on the ship. So I stayed up all night and went around, talking to those hostages who were not in their cabins and could not sleep, to reassure them. And then they said to me, “Would you please go and knock on the doors of the other people? Tell them that things are really all right. You can’t imagine the terror which we have been through.”

So I went along, knocking on doors. Some humorous incidents happened when these people opened their doors. They were quite elderly people. They would say, “Who is it?” And I would reply, “The American Ambassador.” They would say, “How do we know who you are?” I replied, “Believe me, it’s the American Ambassador.” I’d tell them my name, and we’d talk and joke, and finally I’d get them to open their doors. I would go in and talk to them. The only person whose door I did not knock on was that of Mrs. Klinghoffer, because I was told that she was under sedation.

“Mr. Ambassador, we want you to know that we didn’t crack, and we always remembered that we were Americans”

Meanwhile, the [Embassy] doctor was meeting with everyone and talking to them. Edmund Hull, one of our political officers, went around and met people. He is one of those very capable officers whom you instinctively gravitate to, because they do everything right. He was going around, talking to them and reassuring them. By that time I must have looked like a terrorist myself, as I hadn’t shaved or had time to clean up. We all had breakfast and then I said, “Look, do you think that we should meet before I leave?” They said, “Yes, we’d like that very much. We want to talk to you.” They said, “Oh, by the way, would you go down and talk Mrs. Klinghoffer into joining us, just in case she would want to come?”

So I went down and knocked on her door. I entered her room and held her hand and talked to her. She had a woman friend in the room who had spent the night with her. I said, “You know, we really want you to come and be with us. All of your friends are waiting.” She said, “OK.”

And I’ll never forget when she walked into the room. She was a very pretty woman. She had cleaned up, made herself up, and put on a gorgeous, summer dress and came in to join her friends. As it turned out, there wasn’t much that they wanted to hear from me. They appreciated what we had done and what we were trying to do. They elected a spokesman. What they wanted me to know is that they were terrorized, they were just so scared, but they were also damned mad. The spokesman said, “Mr. Ambassador, we want you to know that we didn’t crack, we didn’t crawl, and we always remembered that we were Americans.”

And I thought, “My God, they are reassuring me!” I said, “May I tell people this?” And they said, “Please tell them.” So I said this to the assembled press and I called it through to Mike Armacost and suggested that he put it in his testimony to Congress. I said that these people were the heroes of this incident….

I got to the Embassy about 11:00 a.m. I was told that I had been asked to go over and see the Foreign Minister immediately. I said, “Look, I’m beat. I stink. I feel rotten. I haven’t slept for three days. I’m hungry.” So I called my wife. I said, “Honey, come over [to the Embassy] and bring some clothes.” Then I said, “Tell the Foreign Minister that I’ll be there in an hour and a half or so.” By the way, when I told my wife about what had happened on the ship, I just broke down and cried. It was just such a touching, emotional experience.

When I walked in to see the Foreign Minister, he was very reserved. We were on a first name basis — I’d known him for years. I could see immediately that [our conversation] was going to be in terms of “Mr. Ambassador” and “Mr. Foreign Minister.” He started saying things like, “The President doesn’t understand” and “How could this happen?” I tried to reply and I said, “You know, I don’t think that I know what you’re talking about.” He started in again.

AbdelMeguid_ProfileI said, “Excuse me. Something must be happening that I know nothing about. Would you please tell me what it is.” He said, “You don’t know, do you?” I said, “No.” He took about three feet of press reports, ruffled through them, and showed them to me. He said, “This is being broadcast, every hour on the hour, in the United States, on every radio station.” It was my statement that I had called in [to the Department]. I said, “Well, in the first place, I was in no position to have secure communications. The most important thing to do was to notify my government and your government, on the assumption that you didn’t know that an American had been killed. Equally important was to tell you our position, that these hijackers must be prosecuted.”

He said, “Yes, but why did you have to call them ‘sons of bitches’?”

I said, “Well, aren’t they?”

He said, “Well, of course they are, and worse. But this has put real pressure on us.” I said, “Well, this was unintended, but it happened. Now, let’s talk about what you’re going to do about it.” He said, “Oh, well, we’re going to…” I said, “Now, wait a minute. Maybe I ought to talk to the President.” He replied, “No, the President isn’t talking to anyone.”

I said, “It’s not very wise for the President not to talk to anyone on this.” He said, “Oh, well,” and this and that. I said, “Look, you’ve got these people. They’re murderers, they carried out a hijacking, probably in Egyptian waters. Anyway, they’re now in your custody. We have a confirmed murder of an American, and you’re telling me that you’re not going to prosecute them?”

Then he got back to my statement — how people were interpreting this, and how this looked like a deliberate attempt to stir up my government. I said, “Well, it actually reflects my sentiments. It’s the least that I could say. But that’s not the point. The point isn’t what we are doing. The point is what you’re doing, and I urge you to make a decision that these people should be put on trial.” …

Frankly, I thought that we couldn’t prosecute them. We could have brought them in tiger cages down Fifth Avenue, and then what? They would have been released. There would be a Jewish lawyer from the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union to defend them] because, you know, of their rights in this country. I was told later, by the way, by a team from the Justice Department that I was right.

I could not get through to the President [of Egypt], and [Secretary of State] George Shultz could not get through to him. What then happened was that during that afternoon my Chief of Station [senior CIA representative in the Embassy] came in and said, “I’ve got a message for you.” The message was that if these guys [the hijackers] leave [Egypt], the U. S. is going to try to get them. I said, “Thank you.” I’d been informed….

We then found that the Egyptians were starting to play games with us. But then the plane took off, and we captured the hijackers.

The U.S. intercepts the Egyptian plane and forces it to land in Sicily

HULL:  When we finally got in Port Said, Ambassador Veliotes made his way back to Cairo to manage the crisis which now was in full swing in Egyptian-U.S. relations. I was asked to stay with the hostages, and at this stage we were joined by the regional psychologist from the embassy. We were bussed to a military airbase outside of Cairo and boarded a C-130 to be flown to Germany for medical examinations. I accompanied the hostages. In midair, we had news that American military aircraft had intercepted the Egyptian airplane that was taking the terrorists from Egypt to Tunisia, which at the time was the headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organization. President Reagan had made the decision that we would so intervene and force the Egyptian airplane down at the U.S. Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Sicily. This interception caused even greater consternation back in Cairo.

codel sigonellaWe were diverted from Germany to Sigonella to give some of the hostages the opportunity to identify the terrorists and that process took place at the military. While this process was being done, many of us were outside in a waiting area. We were joined there by the team from the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) which had been shadowing the Achille Lauro at sea.

So, we had an interesting situation in which the hostages, the terrorists, the U.S. special operations personnel and U.S. diplomats were co-located and to some extent, could discuss the incident. At that time, I learned that Special Ops team had been prepared to storm the vessel. The hostages on hearing of this plan to storm the vessel expressed relief that it had not occurred. The hostages had been separated into different groups. The hijackers were with those dispersed groups, had automatic weapons and had radio contact. At least some of the hostages believed that if the storming had occurred, the hijackers would have opened up with automatic weapons, and there would have been many casualties.

The next move came from the Italians. Balancing their diplomatic interests as they saw them and knowing that this was a highly sensitive subject in the Arab world, the Italians decided to move the hijackers to Rome out of American custody. General Steiner who was commanding the Special Operations forces insisted on accompanying the hijackers.

When the Italians refused, he ordered his small jet to take off from the base without clearance and he flew over, just over, the heads of the Italian authorities and directed his airplane to Rome. His concern was well-founded because eventually the Italians did release Abu Abbas, who was not among the hijackers of the Achille Lauro but who had come to Italy to meet with his men who had been hijackers and who was responsible with commanding the operation. So this caused a great stress to U.S.-Italian relations as well.…

The Egyptians were outraged, especially by the interception of the Egypt Air flight. The Egyptians believed that they had done a service to the U.S. by arranging for the hijacking to end without further loss of life….

VELIOTES: The plane landed at Sigonella. The first reaction I received was from the Egyptian Defense Minister. I stayed on the phone for 45 minutes, giving him therapy. I told him, number one, that he couldn’t resign. He figured that he was such a good friend of ours and that we had made his position untenable….He asked, “Don’t you know what’s happened?”

I said, “No.” He said, “Your forces have surrounded our plane. We cannot allow this. We must fight you.” I said, “Well, for heaven’s sake, this has to be sorted out.” Fortunately, it was. It was nothing but bad judgment on our part. If you’ll remember, our forces surrounded their [the Egyptians’] plane, and the Italian Carabinieri surrounded our forces.

Q: Our Ambassador to Italy at the time, Max Rabb, said that he was trying to get this sorted out, and he was told no, that this was all in the hands of LTC Oliver North and that they only took orders from him.

Magied-al-molqiVELIOTES: No one told me this. My problem with that view is that Ambassador Rabb did not go to Sigonella himself….

Finally, the four hijackers were taken off the plane. The four persons actually involved were prosecuted. The plane then went on with this guy, Mohammed Abul al-Abbas, whom we had never heard of. I honestly didn’t know who he was. The Egyptians I talked to didn’t know him. As a matter of fact, they asked me, earlier that day or the day before, “Who in hell is this guy?” I asked Washington and never got an answer.

So the Egyptian plane flew to Rome, and the question is, what’s going to happen to Mohammed Abul al-Abbas? Well, we know what happened. The Italian Government fell after Mohammed Abul al-Abbas sneaked away on a Yugoslav plane….

The Italian legal authorities asked if any of our people, any of our hostages, would be willing to come to Sigonella and identify the [hijackers]…. And every one of them said, “Yes,” and it was almost like something out of a novel or a movie. Marilyn Klinghoffer, when she identified the man who, we think, killed her husband, spit in his face.

Taking the Heat – The Messy Aftermath

That ended that phase of it, but, of course, the relationship between Egypt and the United States was at an impasse. [President] Mubarak insisted that President Reagan apologize. Reagan insisted that Mubarak apologize, and things continued the way they were. This is when a career officer with experience as an Ambassador plays a very important role. You are most important and effective when Washington is utterly disorganized and in chaos. This is where we were. We had the Legal Adviser’s Office [in the State Department] running this situation. We had 16 other people [involved]….

So, as luck would have it, about three days into this impasse, and certain elements of the [Egyptian] press were calling for my assassination, the Egyptians had put us in the deep freeze….

So I said [to an embassy staffer] “I think I ought to give a press conference today. I’ve never met the press in Cairo, except individually, at lunches, and off the record. What do you think?” He had great feelings about it and said, “I think so.”… And I started out that the United States very much regrets the necessity of having to stop the Egyptian plane, and I likened it to a bus on which some criminals were trying to escape. The police stopped it. But I used the words “regret” and “necessity.”

So in the press came and I handed out this press statement in the full glory of the TV cameras and everything. I said, “I’d like to add that we want to commend the Egyptian government for its handling of this Achille Lauro hijacking.” I said, “That [the hijacking] took place before the Egyptians became involved, and the Egyptians speedily brought this to a resolution which saved the hostages–and there were 400 people, remember–from additional trauma and possible, physical violence. For political, as well as humanitarian reasons, this was the way to handle it.” So I said that. And I played down stopping the [passengers] from leaving the boat, stopping the plane, and all of that, and emphasized the positive. I didn’t clear any of this, of course [with the State Department].

I was told later on that when [my statement] hit Washington–I had called Dick Murphy [Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs] and told him, “Look, Dick, I’m not going to put any pressure on you or anyone else. You can see my remarks as I’m making them.” And I’m told that the first reaction was outrage in certain quarters. And then, the next day, we sent back the details:…the detailed blueprint of how to reestablish the Egyptian-American relationship at its previous level. Everyone accepted that, and it was the blueprint from which we worked. Then, because this concerned the Middle East, funny things happened.

About six weeks later the Libyans hijacked an Egyptian airplane, full of Egyptian hostages, and took it to Malta. The Egyptians asked us if we would escort the Egyptian aircraft [carrying an Egyptian commando team to Malta] because it would be within range of Libyan fighters. They [Egyptian fighters] didn’t have the range [to escort it]. So planes from the Sixth Fleet — of course, it was planes from the Sixth Fleet that had hijacked the Egyptian plane — were escorting the Egyptian Army to Malta, where they were going to rescue their hostages from the Libyans. We had two of our own soldiers on board [the Egyptian aircraft], ostensibly as observers. But basically the Egyptians wanted to make sure that we were really going to escort them [the Egyptian Army commando team]….

Mossad_sealAnyway, I think that what we did in Italy was crazy. They, the people around the Secretary, got mad at me….So they cut me off from telegrams about what was going on in Italy, which was pretty stupid. I realized what had happened, so I complained. They turned the telegrams back on. The first one I got was the message to the Embassy [in Rome] that was to be given to the Italians that would argue that Mohammed al-Abbas should be held for trial.

I read it, picked up the phone, called Mike Armacost, and said, “Mike, for Christ’s sake, cancel that. This is a Mossad [Israeli intelligence organization] report. Anyone who has served in the Middle East will know the Israeli style. I mean, you guys didn’t even paraphrase it. And therefore, the [Italians] will dismiss it.” Well, Mike admitted that he didn’t quite know what I was talking about–someone else was handling this. And, sure enough, the second telegram I received was about an Italian Foreign Ministry official telling our DCM [in Rome], “This is a Mossad report. How do you expect us to act on [the basis of] Israeli propaganda?”

And then, you know, the [Italian] government fell….

Here we are, the same people who were insisting that Mohammed al-Abbas [aka Muhammad Zaidan] had to be tried, regardless of consequences for American policy in Europe and the Middle East, including NATO bases. To me it’s not coincidental that this happened after this series of events in Sigonella. Not so much intercepting the plane, but what happened afterwards. The Spaniards canceled the bases agreement. [They seemed to be saying], “That’s the way the Americans recognize the sovereignty of their partners.” It was unbelievable, but it was a tough time. To me, as an individual, it was tough. But we got things back on track…. I’ll say this about [President] Ronald Reagan. He did not bear grudges. I mean, Ronald Reagan, in this sense, had a real grasp of the broader subject. He wanted to get on with our work….

One final comment:  While I was holding the line in Cairo on U.S. policy at no negotiations, no concessions to terrorists, Ollie North and Bud McFarlane, et al, were trying to ransom the hostages in Lebanon by giving the Iranians military equipment.

HULL:  Ambassador Veliotes became the scapegoat. Ambassador Veliotes was particularly castigated for the language he had used when the Achille Lauro was approaching Port Said. It had been salty language. Ambassador Veliotes took this scapegoating with great professionalism, even stoicism. I never heard him complain, I never heard him fault Washington but at the end of the day it was the Ambassador who was forced to leave Cairo prematurely and pay the price of the diplomatic crisis.

 

klinghofferleon

 

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  • Maggiemay

    I always wonder, what would have happened if the egyptian pilot, just refused to change course. Would we have shot it down? Or just backed down?

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The Achille Lauro Hijacking &#…

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