BEIRUT, Lebanon -- Three gunmen kidnapped an American diplomat as he warmed up his car to go to work Friday, dragging him into their automobile just blocks from the U.S. Embassy's heavily guarded offices and speeding off.
Embassy spokesman David Pugh said there were 'no leads' into the kidnapping of William Buckley, 55, the first secretary of the embassy political section who had been in the Middle East for about six months.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the abduction -- the third of an American citizen since Feb. 10 and the first of an American diplomat since the 1976 kidnepping-assassination of commercial attache Francis Melloy.
The kidnapping came on a day of heavy artillery, mortar and heavy machinegun fire in and around Beirut amid signs that a cease-fire declared four days ago was crumbling.
Lebanese leaders at peace talks in Lausanne, Switzerland held private meetings in their quest to end nine years of civil war and devise new power-sharing arrangements between Christians and Moslems.
The U.S. Embassy warned the more than 50 diplomats based in Beirut to take extra precautions and was considering moving all staff into the fortress-like British embassy compound, which houses the temporary U.S. Embassy offices.
Pugh said there had been no threats or warnings of the kidnap.
Buckley was seized shortly after 7:30 a.m. as he was starting his car to drive to the embassy several blocks away, the embassy spokesman said.
'Eyewitnesses told us that the American diplomat was taken out of his diplomatic vehicle outside his apartment,' a police spokesman said.
'The kidnap was carried out by three men in civilian clothes. One of the three approached the diplomat, who was warming up his car engine, and forced him to get out at gunpoint.
Buckley, a native of Medford, Mass., was forced into the assailants' white Renault and driven away, the witnesses told police.
The kidnap car was seen later in the day near Khalde nine miles south of Beirut, an area controlled jointly by the Shiite Amal and Druze Moslem militias.
He said the embassy asked for and received cooperation from the Amal and the Druze's Progressive Socialist Party to help find Buckley, whose duties included acting as the embassy's contact with the nation's rival militias.
'The U.S. government is actively involved in trying to seek details ... who might have done it,' White House spokesman Larry Speakes said in Washington. 'We're trying to smoke it out. We're conferring with other governments.'
U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Reginald Bartholomew, who has been in Washington for consultation, was meeting with President Reagan in the Oval Office Friday.
Two other kidnapped Americans this month are still missing. Frank Regier, 50, an engineering professor at the American University of Beirut, was seized Feb. 10.
Jeremy Levin, Beirut bureau manager of Cable News Network, disappeared March 7 and CNN staffers believe he was kidnapped.
In past attacks against Americans, the Islamic Jihad (Holy War) terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the April bombing of the U.S. Embassy, the October bombing of the U.S. Marine headquarters and the assination in January of American University's acting president Malcolm Kerr.
Meanwhile, the four-day old cease-fire appared to be crumbling under heavy fighting along the 'green line' dividing Beirut into the Christian and Moslem sectors and artillery and mortar fire in the outskirts of the city.
At least 35 shells hit Chrisitan positions at Ain Saade in the mountains east of Beirut while the city's northern suburbs came under mortar attack during the day. Gunbattles were also reported at several points along the 'green line.'