U.S. Protests Soviet Killing of Officer
March 26, 1985
HEIDELBERG, West Germany -- (AP) -- A Soviet guard shot and killed an American military officer who was unarmed and on a legitimate mission in East Germany, U.S. officials said Monday. The Soviets claimed he was "caught red handed" taking pictures in a restricted area.
The Soviets said that the guard fired when the American tried to flee and that other soldiers captured his driver, who was at their vehicle nearby. Each government protested to the other.
The shooting occurred Sunday in or near the East German town of Ludwigslust, about 100 miles northwest of Berlin and about 30 miles from the West German border.
A Pentagon official said he did not know what kind of East German or Soviet installations were in the area but added: "This officer wasn't doing anything he shouldn't have been doing." An official of the State Department said the slain officer "was not in a restricted area."
President Reagan said Maj. Arthur Nicholson Jr. "was doing nothing except what we're entitled to do" when the Russian soldier shot him.
The Soviet Embassy said Nicholson and his driver were in a restricted zone and entered it "despite the presence of clearly visible warning signs in Russian and German."
The Army said Nicholson spoke Russian.
Nicholson wore a camouflage suit and carried a camera used to photograph combat equipment, the Soviet Embassy said. "The officer was caught red-handed by a Soviet sentry guarding that equipment," said the statement by embassy spokesman Vladimir Kulagin. "He did not comply with his orders and, after a warning shot, while attempting to escape, he was killed."
THE UNITED STATES, Britain and France have military liaison offices in East Germany, and the Soviets have three in West Germany, established just after World War II under Allied occupation. Their principal function now is gathering intelligence.
State Department spokesman Bernard Kalb said: "There can be no excuse from the Soviet side for this tragic incident. Any use of force is unjustified" under the military liaison agreement with the Soviets.
Kalb said Oleg Sokolov, a high-ranking Soviet Embassy official, was called to the State Department.
The Soviet Embassy statement said, "The Soviet side lodged a resolute protest in this connection and expressed its regret over the death of the American military officer."
U.S. authorities said the American mission in West Berlin filed a "serious protest" with the Soviets and said an urgent investigation was being conducted.
A DIPLOMATIC source in Bonn said neither Nicholson, 37, of West Redding, Conn., nor the driver was armed. The source said the driver was not hurt.
At the White House, spokesman Larry Speakes called the shooting "unwarranted and unjustified" and said a preliminary investigation supported that statement. He refused to give details.
A diplomatic source in West Germany said Nicholson was killed while "doing his job and acting appropriately."
Speakes said President Reagan was awakened early Monday and heard about the shooting from his national security adviser, Robert McFarlane. He said the president did not order any immediate action.
The U.S. Army announced the incident in a brief statement from its Heidelberg headquarters Monday morning. The U.S. diplomatic mission in West Berlin confirmed the incident later Monday.