257. Summary of Conclusions of a Mini Policy Review Committee Meeting1


  • U.S. Policy Toward Hostage Incident in Bogota, Colombia


  • State

    • Under Secretary for Political Affairs, David Newsom
    • Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs, Samuel Eaton
    • Director, Office for Combatting Terror, Anthony Quainton
  • Defense

    • Deputy Secretary Graham Claytor
  • JCS

    • Lt. General J.S. Pustay
  • CIA

    • Director Stansfield Turner
  • NSC

    • William E. Odom
    • Robert Pastor


The meeting opened with a State briefing on the present situation in Bogota. Thirty-three hostages remain in the Embassy of the Dominican Republic. Last night, the Austrian Ambassador was released after an appeal for mercy because his wife was reported to be dying. This is the third time hostages have been released in this incident, making a total of 24. Two negotiation sessions have been held between Colombian officials and the terrorists, and many additional telephone conversations have occurred. (S)

The terrorist demands have been reduced. The demand for release of 317 prisoners has been dropped to between 20 and 30. The $50 million ransom demand has been cut by half. (S)

[4 lines not declassified]

Finally, there are some signs of preparation of a Colombian commando force for a possible rescue attempt. (S)

State explained that, if we hold to our present position and let events take their course in Colombia, this will likely result in:

—free passage for the hostages to an asylum point;

—the release of some prisoners;

—and, possibly, some ransom money being paid. (S)

[Page 744]

Defense strongly expressed the view that the U.S. should not condone any concessions. In the longer run, concessions will mean that more diplomats will find themselves in hostage situations. Others believed that to close off all options would be to encourage the use of force. (S)

There was some discussion of the implications for the present situation of the recent settlement of the ransom for the Peace Corps volunteer Starr in Colombia.2 Officially, we did not condone that payment. Differing views were expressed on whether our official position in the Starr case will inhibit or encourage other terrorist ransom demands. It was agreed that the Starr case does not restrict our choices in the present case. (S)

It was emphasized that how we decide the issues before us today will, by implication, either involve the U.S. more deeply in the political responsibility for the Colombian decisions or will keep distance between the U.S. and those decisions. Defense expressed the view that we can take a very strong position on each of the issues while, at the same time, acknowledging that the Colombians are in charge. State asked that this basic choice be spelled out in the notes so it is clear that we are implicitly making choices for more or less involvement. (S)

The meeting reviewed what the U.S. position should be on the terrorists demands: asylum, ransom, the release of prisoners. Then it discussed the use of force for a rescue effort. (S)

Asylum. Newsom enumerated our options as follows:

1. Hold to our present official position that we do not favor asylum for terrorists.3

2. Hold to our present position but actively discourage other nations directly involved from agreeing to the granting of asylum.

3. In addition to Option 2 also go to any country offering asylum in an effort to discourage it from doing so. (S)

Defense initially expressed a preference for Option 2, but the discussion led to a consensus for the first option, holding to our present position but no active opposition to asylum. The rationale is to leave this as a possible final negotiated outcome, i.e., granting safe passage to a point of asylum but not meeting other demands. (S)

Ransom. Newsom set forth our options on the payment of ransom as follows:

[Page 745]

1. Stay with the current position that the U.S. will not be a party to the payment of ransom.

2. Also, actively discourage others from participating in the payment of a ransom. (S)

Defense expressed a strong preference for the second option. It was pointed out that Turbay’s recent letter4 may be an effort to get the U.S. to wink at a ransom payment by other countries. It was reported that the Colombians are not having success in raising the ransom money, although the Venezuelans showed some early interest. We are not sure what Turbay’s instructions to his negotiators are on ransom. We need to find this out. [1 line not declassified] No consensus was reached in the discussion. A few favored Option 1 believing the decision should be left to the Colombian Government but that the Colombians should negotiate hard to achieve safe passage without other concessions; a majority favored actively seeking to discourage payment of a ransom.5 (S)

Release of Prisoners. Newsom stated the choices on the release of prisoners as follows:

1. Leave the choice up to the Colombian Government entirely.

2. Take an active role in discouraging release of prisoners. (S)

Defense expressed strong support for Option 2, actively discouraging release of prisoners. State supports Option 1 and argues that there is a difference between prisoner release and ransom. In the case of prisoners, it is a Colombian internal matter governed by Colombian law. (S)

It was also pointed out that, in a response to President Turbay’s letter, the U.S. could make explicit the long-run costs worldwide of making concessions. That is, a release of prisoners now can only encourage similar terrorist activities in the future.6 (S)

[less than 1 line not declassified] by standing firm against ransom and release of prisoners, the chances of pushing the terrorists to accept only asylum are better. (S)

Use of Force. Our present position with the Colombia Government is that we do not favor the use of force under the circumstances. Newsom stated the options for the future as follows:

1. Do nothing and stay with our present position.

2. [2 lines not declassified]

[Page 746]

3. [2 lines not declassified]

4. Encourage Israel to offer assistance. (S)

In the discussion it was reported that the Colombians are preparing a 40-man force for a rescue, possibly but not probably, without the knowledge of President Turbay; and if the U.S. does not give the Colombian military a good reason for not undertaking such a mission, it might go ahead with a high probability of failure. [2 lines not declassified] Another consideration, if we stay with the status quo, is that the Colombian military may go ahead with the rescue mission anyway. [4 lines not declassified] Defense argued that we should be willing to take the risk. (S)

The only other country involved which has a credible rescue capability is Israel. It has not responded favorably to the Colombians for advice and assistance for the use of force. [8 lines not declassified] (S)

Once again it was emphasized that a U.S. willingness to participate in rescue efforts involves a fundamental decision to share the responsibility for the outcome. (S)

[7 lines not declassified] Finally, it was agreed that a letter be drafted for the President’s reply to Turbay’s letter.7 (S)

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, General Odom File, Box 52, Terrorism: Bogota Crisis, 2-3/80. Secret. The meeting took place in the White House Situation Room. No drafting information appears on the memorandum. Carter wrote “Zbig” in the top right-hand corner of the summary and initialed it.
  2. Starr was released on February 12. Starr’s mother, Charlotte Jensen, coordinated with columnist Jack Anderson to reportedly pay a donated ransom of $250,000 to the FARC. (Charles A. Krause, “Colombian Guerrillas Free Peace Corpsman After 3 Years,” Washington Post, February 13, 1980, p. A16) For United States policy in the Starr case, see footnote 5, Document 244.
  3. Carter wrote “ok” in the left-hand margin next to this option.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. Carter underlined the phrase “actively seeking to discourage payment of a ransom” and wrote “I agree” in the left-hand margin.
  6. Carter wrote “ok” in the margin next to this paragraph.
  7. See Document 259. In the left-hand margin next to the last three paragraphs, Carter wrote: [1 line not declassified] Carter turned the page horizontally to write this comment.