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U.S. Continues to View Lebanon Situation As Serious

The State Department confirmed today that U.S. special envoy Philip Habib is returning to Jerusalem today for further meetings with Premier Menachem Begin and other Israeli officials. Habib held a second round of talks with President Elias Sarkis of Lebanon in Beirut yesterday and with President Hafez Assad of Syria in Damascus this morning.

The State Department continued to stress the seriousness with which the U.S. views the situation in Lebanon. But it refused again to make a public assessment as to whether Habib has made any progress toward resolving the crisis over the deployment of Syrian anti-aircraft missiles in that country.

Department spokesman Dean Fischer said the downing of an Israeli drone (pilotless photo reconnaissance plane) by Syrian missiles over Lebanon today “underlines the extreme seriousness of the situation which Ambassador Habib is trying to defuse.” He denied reports that Habib, who left Jerusalem only yesterday, had not been scheduled to return there until tomorrow. He said that Habib’s schedule has always been “flexible.”

DENIES U.S. PLAN

Fischer continued to deny that there was any American plan on the table for resolving the crisis and preventing an all-out shooting war between Israel and Syria. When President Reagan sent Habib to the Middle East as his personal representative a week ago, his mission was described as that of “listener” to what the leaders of the three governments involved had to say. Fischer refused to say whether Habib was now a “talker.” He said the Habib “mission is to try to bring about a reduction of tensions.”

Fischer also refused to say whether the U.S. had had any further contacts with the Soviet Union over the situation in Lebanon. He would not comment on a Syrian statement that the Soviet Union was bound to defend them if they are attacked.

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