Reagan Says He's Saddened by Downing of Iranian Airliner With AM-US-Iran BjtSUSANNE M. SCHAFER , Associated Press
Jul. 3, 1988 4:12 PM ET
WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Reagan said he was saddened Sunday that the U.S. Navy had accidentally shot an Iranian airliner out of the sky, but said he would not cut short his July Fourth holiday weekend.
''We don't expect him to come back early,'' White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said.
Reagan, whose statement was relayed by Fitzwater, called the accident ''a terrible human tragedy.''
''I am saddened to report that it appears that in a proper defensive action by the USS Vincennes this morning in the Persian Gulf, an Iranian airliner was shot down over the Strait of Hormuz,'' Reagan said.
''Our sympathy and condolences go out to the passengers, crew, and their families. The Defense Department will conduct a full investigation,'' Reagan said. ''We deeply regret any loss of life.''
Reagan defended the U.S. action, saying the civilian aircraft had ''headed directly'' for the Vincennes while it was engaged in fighting with five Iranian boats.
''The only U.S. interest in the Persian Gulf is peace and this tragedy reinforces the need to achieve that goal with all possible speed,'' Reagan said.
The president and his top aides conferred by telephone and telex throughout the early morning Sunday, with their discussions culminating in a 1:05 p.m. EDT conference call with top officials, a briefing by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. William Crowe, and the release of Reagan's statement at the White House.
But the White House retained its quiet weekend atmosphere. Fitzwater did not meet with reporters, and an aide said no briefings were planned until Tuesday.
The president and first lady Nancy Reagan flew by helicopter to the Camp David, Md., retreat in the Catoctin Mountains outside Washington on Friday. They planned to hold to their schedule, which was to return to the White House at midday on Monday and view the evening Fourth of July fireworks from the balcony of the residence, Fitzwater said.
White House deputy press secretary Roman Popadiuk, who met with reporters briefly, said that national security adviser Colin Powell awoke Reagan at 4:52 a.m. EDT with the news that U.S. forces believed they had shot down an Iranian F-14 jet fighter. He received another update in writing at 8:11 a.m. that noted the Iranian claim that a civilian jetliner had been downed.
At 9:50 a.m., he was told that the Iranian allegations might be correct, the spokesman added.
Popadiuk said Powell flew back to the White House Sunday morning, breaking off a speaking engagement in Tennessee.
The spokesman said Powell returned to Washington in time for the conference call with Reagan and other top aides at 1:05 p.m., during which the president's written statement was discussed as well as the details of the incident.
Also included in the call were Vice President George Bush, Secretary of State George Shultz, Defense Secretary Frank Carlucci, Crowe, White House chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein, Powell's NSC deputy John Negroponte and Fitzwater, Popadiuk said.
Powell planned to keep the president updated on the situation with written statements and telephone conversations, Popadiuk said.