Fighting in Lebanon Cast a Shadow over Haig’s Talks with Middle East Leaders

Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s visit to the Middle East appears from here to have been dominated by two events–one outside the region and one within–developments in Poland and Lebanon. The State Department has confirmed that Haig delayed his departure for the Middle East by 90 minutes last Friday because of the situation in Poland and was ready to break off his trip at any moment after he left.

But State Department spokesman William Dyess stressed today, as he has repeatedly, that the U.S. did not and does not expect the Soviet Union to invade Poland.

As for Lebanon, Dyess said today that while Haig was “able to carry out extensive discussions” with all of the leaders he had planned to see in the Middle East, the fighting in Lebanon “cast a shadow” over the talks. Dyess said the fighting between Syrian forces and Christians in Lebanon is the worst in years and that the U.S. is continuing diplomatic efforts to restore peace in that country.

U.S. PLEDGES SUPPORT TO SARKIS

The State Department released a letter Haig sent yesterday to President Elias Sarkis of Lebanon in which he pledged the “firm support” of the U.S. government in face of “renewed and intensified crises in Beirut, Zahle and in the south.” The letter, which was transmitted by the U.S. Ambassador in Beirut, John Gunther Dean, expressed Haig’s personal “respect and admiration for the courageous efforts” Sarkis had made to uphold the principles of “a free and independent democracy in face of the violence which Lebanon has suffered.” Haig noted that the U.S. has called “on all parties to put an end to the acts of violence from within and without the country” and stressed that “It is in the interests of all Lebanese to support fully the constitutional authorities in Lebanon. We are also making the most urgent and high level contacts with concerned parties in support of your efforts to end this latest round of violence, “Haig wrote to Sarkis.

In addition, he reaffirmed U.S. support for the peacekeeping efforts of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and “for the expansion of the Lebanese contingents serving with UNIFIL in its area of operations.”

U.S. DENIES REPORTS ON AGREEMENT

Meanwhile, the State Department issued a statement late yesterday strongly denying news reports that the U.S. and Egypt had reached an agreement on the military contingents required to police Sinai in accordance with the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. “Agreement has not yet been reached and discussions are continuing,” the statement said. “It is yet to be determined which nations will participate. However, we are optimistic that such a force will be in place by the April, 1982 deadline.”

Israel has warned that it will not complete the final phase of its withdraw I from Sinai by that date unless the peacekeeping force is in place. The Egyptians have been urging the U.S. to go to the United Nations to establish such a force, as required by the peace treaty. But the Soviet Union is considered almost certain to veto such move in the UN Security Council. Under terms of the treaty, the U.S. is committed to create a multi-national peacekeeping force in Sinai if the UN is incapable of doing so.

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