Washington (May. 11)
The State Department continued to maintain silence today on any specifics with respect to the situation in Lebanon except to call it “extremely dangerous.”
“We see the situation as extremely dangerous and continue to urge restraint on all involved,” Department spokesman Dean Fischer told reporters. “As such, that means we are applying the same rule to ourselves,” he said. Fischer cited that rule to explain why he could not comment on a statement by Israeli Premier Menachem Begin yesterday that Israel would order its air force to attack the SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles Syria has deployed in Lebanon if they are not removed peacefully, or on Begin’s disclosure today that he had ordered an attack 11 days ago.
Fischer noted that the State Department has not commented on any public statements by the officials of any of the countries involved. He also declined to say whether the Soviet Union is being helpful in the Lebanese situation or whether Philip Habib, who was sent to the Middle East by President Reagan last week to help defuse the tension would start another round of talks after he completes his current meetings with Israeli officials.
POSSIBLE SHUTTLE DIPLOMACY FOR HABIB
Habib arrived in Jerusalem from Damascus today. A White House official indicated that he might begin a round of shuttle-type diplomacy between the key capitals if requested to do so by Secretary of State Alexander Haig. According to reports from Jerusalem, Habib met for 90 minutes with Begin and said afterwards that his talks with the Premier had been “useful.” He told reporters that he informed Begin of his efforts in Lebanon and Syria and that they would meet again tomorrow.
Fischer noted that so far Habib has followed a set schedule by visiting Lebanon, Syria and Israel in that order. He reminded reporters, however, that at the outset of his mission, the State Department had said that Habib’s schedule was “flexible.”
Apart from terming it “dangerous”, the State Department has refused to make any substantive comments on the crisis in Lebanon which erupted last month after the Syrian army attacked Christian forces in Zahle. Fischer refused to say today whether the U.S. still considers the Syrian army in Lebanon to be a peacekeeping force. But he cautioned reporters not to infer any change of policy from his silence.