Informal Exchange With Reporters on the Achille Lauro Hijacking Incident

October 10, 1985

Q. Right here, Mr. President -- --

Q. Mr. President, do you think they should let the hijackers go?

The President. Let me just say something if I can, first. I know that all of us were pleased, of course, when the hijackers were apprehended and the hostages were all freed, but then, I know how sorry all of us were to learn that one, an American, Klinghoffer, had been murdered -- brutally murdered -- by the hijackers. Now, it is possible and certainly is apparent at this time, or seems to be, that they have been allowed to depart Egypt and -- to parts unknown. But we're doing everything we can to see if they cannot be brought to justice. We think that no nation, responsible nation, should give shelter to these people, should make them available to whichever country has the proper jurisdiction for prosecution -- if that is us, because the victim was American, fine; or Italy, because it was on an Italian ship, or -- I'm not a lawyer, the legal niceties of that sort of thing, but we're going to do everything we can to see that they are brought to justice.

Q. Are you mad at Egypt for letting them go, Mr. President?

The President. Apparently, from what we know so far -- it's been rather difficult getting all the information -- apparently the Egyptians did not know that a hostage had been murdered, that there'd been a crime committed at that time, before they were turned over to the PLO, which evidently was the arrangement, would get them off the ship and free the hostages.

Q. Mr. President, Arafat has them now. How are we going to bring them to justice if Arafat and the PLO has them?

The President. I think certainly a demand should be made. Mr. Arafat has said the PLO had nothing to do with this. I would think that we should make a demand to him, then, to turn them over to whichever country should have proper jurisdiction.

Q. Arafat doesn't -- --

Q. Didn't you say the same thing about the TWA hijackers? And yet nothing has happened there.

The President. Yes. The problem was -- we all know the situation in Lebanon. The Government seems to have very little authority with all the conflicting groups that are there battling each other. But we feel that they could be -- [inaudible] -- which we have -- we continue to try and find out, to apprehend those original two hijackers who committed the murder on TWA flight -- --

Q. Arafat says that he'll punish them. Is that good enough for you?

The President. Well, I would think that if he believes that their organization has enough of a -- sort of a kind of a national court set up, like a nation, that they can bring them to justice and carry that out, all right; but just so they are brought to justice.

Q. But you'd let the PLO punish them, then?

The President. What? Yes, I said if they were determined to do that.

Q. Do you really believe that the PLO has nothing to do with this?

The President. I have no way of knowing one way or the other on that. With the factions that are existing there within the Palestinians, I have no way to know that.

Q. But, sir, if you would let the PLO punish them, wouldn't that be, in effect, recognizing the PLO as a governing nation, which we don't do?

The President. I don't think that would necessarily follow.

Q. Is the U.S. willing to take action itself, Mr. President? Would the U.S. take military action to bring these people to justice?

The President. You're now talking about whether we would invade a friendly nation -- [inaudible]. No, we're going to try to do this in a legal manner. The time for action, which could have been taken by us, is passed and was ended when the rescue was made.

Q. Mr. President, even if they had not murdered an American, would it have been right to offer them free passage, in your opinion?

The President. Well, you know our position has always been -- and we've tried to persuade all the other countries that had an interest in this, were involved -- that you do not negotiate or bargain with terrorists.

Q. [Inaudible]

The President. Yes, they did.

Q. What do you think of that?

The President. Well, I'm not going to comment on it. They made a judgment based on -- --

Q. What is bringing them to justice? Just giving them a 6-month jail term or something?

The President. No. This is trying them for murder, a very brutal murder, and the threat of murder to others. In our country that would be capital punishment.

Q. What does this do to the peace process, sir? Does this end the peace process for the time being?

The President. I don't think that this has any effect on the peace process. We're continuing with that. But I've got to go.

Note: The exchange began at 10:36 a.m. at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago, IL. The President then traveled to Deerfield.