Begin Agrees to Reagan’s Request That Israel Give the U.S. More Time to Convince Syria to Withdraw I

Premier Menachem Begin responded affirmatively today to President Reagan’s message urging Israel to give the U.S. time for further diplomatic efforts aimed at the withdrawal of Syrian SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles from Lebanon. Begin drafted his reply after consultation with the Cabinet which agreed unanimously to its contents. The message will be delivered personally to the White House by Israel’s Ambassador in Washington, Ephraim Evron.

Begin remarked to reporters later that “only a miracle can convince the Syrians” to remove the missiles “by peaceful means.” But he welcomed Reagan’s decision, announced in Washington today, to send career diplomat Philip Habib as his personal envoy to the region to try to defuse the crisis. Habib, who served as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Carter Administration, is expected here later this week. He will also visit Lebanon and Syria.

Begin said he didn’t know what proposals Habib might bring but described him as “a wonderful and experienced diplomat.” He said Israel was willing to explore all avenues to a peaceful resolution of the crisis.

Asked by a reporter if it can be assumed that Israel would await the outcome of Habib’s mission before it resorts to other measures to remove the Syrian missiles from Lebanon, Begin replied, “You can assume anything you like.” He insisted that Reagan’s message, delivered to him yesterday by U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis, was a “most friendly letter.” Begin said there was no American pressure on Israel or even a sign of it. “We speak with the U.S. as friends and allies,” he said.

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