President Reagan denied Friday that the U.S. government is negotiating a hostage release with Iran, but said his administration is "doing everything we can" to win their release.
Responding to a published report in a Middle East newspaper, which said a deal is in the works for possibly as soon as Oct. 7, Reagan told reporters, "We have no direct negotiations, or have we had, with Iran at any time in this.""Certainly there has been no contact between us and the kidnappers," the president said.
There has been a spate of reports in recent weeks indicating the possibility of movement in attempts to liberate nine Americans held captive in Lebanon by pro-Iranian elements.
Reagan was confronted with questions about the latest report, published in the Israeli newspaper, The Nation, when he arrived in Chicago to appear on behalf of Vice President George Bush before an audience of ethnic voters and at a Republican party fund-raiser later in the day.
Sitting at a picnic table for lunch at Wozniak's Casino, Reagan told reporters, "We are doing everything we can to get them back. But these rumors and reports are out about negotiations. All I can say is, they must be coming from Iran, because they're not true."
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley denied the newspaper report without any qualifications. She said: "There have been no such meetings. The story is not true. It is all false."
The Israeli newspaper had reported that a prospective U.S.-Iranian deal would result in the release of five Americans, possibly by Oct. 7, with a subsequent liberation of three other Americans and a Briton, possibly Anglican Church envoy Terry Waite, a week later.
A ninth American hostage, Marine Lt. Col. William R. Higgins, 41, a U.N. peacekeeper kidnapped Feb. 17, would not be released because the Iranians told the Americans they did not know his whereabouts, The Nation said.