Informal Exchange With Reporters on the Achille Lauro Hijacking Incident

October 10, 1985

The President. Listen, I'm just going to take a second. I've got 30 people waiting in there to have lunch. But apparently there's a little confusion, and maybe I'm responsible, I don't know, with regard to the PLO and their part in this hostage setup. I did not mean to imply that I favored them giving a trial or attempting to do justice to the hijackers. I really believe that the PLO, if the hijackers were in their custody, should turn them over to a sovereign state that would have jurisdiction and could prosecute them as the murderers that they are. And that is reality -- what I think should be done and what we would make every effort to see would be done.

Q. Well, sir, if they won't turn them over, how can we make them turn them over?

The President. That is a problem we'll have to look at and find out. And if I had an answer to that specifically right now, I wouldn't make it public.

Q. Are you satisfied that the PLO does have control of the hijackers in Tunisia now?

The President. I would have to tell you that there had been so many things spoken and left unanswered in this -- and this and then I'm going to go into lunch, after I say this -- that I'm hesitant about saying anything positive. It was our understanding that they were put in their custody. And where they are now or whether they have them, I don't really know. And I'm just trying to keep in touch with our sources of information, our Ambassador there, to try and stay abreast of what the situation is.

Q. Are you satisfied they're out of Egypt, though, sir?

The President. No. I'm not even satisfied with that. All I know is they're off the boat, and they're someplace over there, and our people are safe.

Q. But no trial by the PLO?

Q. -- -- Mubarak said -- --

The President. What?

Q. No trial by the PLO?

The President. No, I don't think -- --

Q. Mr. President -- --

The President. They are not a sovereign nation, and I don't think that they would have a machinery that -- --

Q. So, you would not be -- --

Q. Despite what Mubarak -- --

Q. -- -- satisfied -- as you said before -- you would not be satisfied if they punish them? You said that you would be satisfied, but now you're saying you would not be satisfied?

The President. Well, no. And I shouldn't have made a statement of that kind. I think that I was thinking kind of -- as mad as I am -- vengeance instead of justice and -- --

Q. But any sovereign nation?

The President. What?

Q. Any sovereign nation?

The President. Well, I think that there's a possibility of our own because it was our citizen, but Italy because it was an Italian ship. I think because the crime began in Egypt there could be a -- I think that you could find a reason for more then one sovereign nation to have jurisdiction in this case.

Q. Mr. President, the Israelis -- --

Q. Mubarak says that they're out of Egypt.

The President. What?

Q. But President Mubarak says they're out of Egypt. Don't you believe him?

The President. The case is whether he has all the same information or the information he should have, too. Earlier, in his work to get the hostages freed, he did not know that a crime had been committed either.

Q. He said they were all safe.

Q. Mr. President, the Israelis say that -- --

The President. What?

Q. -- -- Yasser Arafat knew in advance of the raid. Is that your understanding, sir?

The President. That what?

Q. The Israelis say Yasser Arafat knew in advance of the hijacking.

The President. I wouldn't have any way of knowing whether that's true or not.

Q. They say you were planning a military operation to free the hostages if they had not been freed.

The President. Now, Sam [Sam Donaldson, ABC News], you know that that's something I can't talk about either.

Q. Have a nice lunch.

Note: The exchange began at 11:36 a.m. in the cafeteria of the Kitchens of Sara Lee in Deerfield, IL. The President then returned to Chicago.