President Reagan, commenting publicly for the first time on the recent string of espionage arrests, said Saturday that the United States will ``root out and prosecute the spies of any nation.'' ``We'll let the chips fall where they may,'' Reagan said in his weekly radio address, delivered from his mountaintop ranch 30 miles north of here.
In the past few weeks, four Americans have been arrested on spy charges, including Jonathan J. Pollard and his wife, Anne Henderson-Pollard. Mr. Pollard, a civilian Navy intelligence analyst, allegedly sold stolen documents to Israel.
The President did not mention Israel, but he said, ``As events of recent days have made clear, many nations spy on the United States. The totality of this threat underscores just how important it is that we protect ourselves.''
The Pollard case has created a diplomatic strain between the United States and Israel, a close ally.
Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres apologized publicly to the United States Sunday for ``the alleged spy case.''
The State Department said Friday that it was dismayed that Israel has not cooperated promptly with the US investigation into the Pollard case. The US wants access to two Israeli officials, who were apparently connected with the case and have left this country. The US also wants Israel to return documents allegedly sold to it by Pollard. At press time, it was not known whether Israel would cooperate with these requests.
Some experts in the US say the Pollard case will eventually die down and not significantly damage US-Israeli ties. The two countries ``can straighten this out in no time,'' said Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York on Sunday. Senator Moynihan is a former vice-chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.
``I was surprised it took them [Israel] a whole week to make this [apology],'' said Richard Helms, former Central Intelligence director, also on Sunday. Helms pointed out that it is not unusual for allies to spy on one another, adding ``the only sin in espionage is getting caught.''
``Some of you may be wondering if the large number of spy arrests in recent weeks means that we're looking harder or whether there are more spies to find,'' Reagan said in his radio address, speaking about the slew of spy cases this year.
``Well, I think the answer to both questions is yes,'' he said.
The President said his administration is seeking to reduce the size of the hostile intelligence threat in the United States, improve monitoring of exchange programs, refine government communications and personnel procedures, and expand its counterintelligence capability abroad, as well as improve its ability to analyze information.