Washington (May. 26)
The State Department continued today to maintain its stoney silence on anything concerning U.S. special envoy Philip Habib’s efforts to defuse the missile crisis in Lebanon. But Department spokesman Dean Fischer did reject the contention that Habib’s mission was “stalemated.”
Habib’s “mission is in progress and will continue,” Fischer said. He refused, however, to confirm or deny that Habib, who has been in Jerusalem since the weekend, will remain there while Saudi Arabia attempts to convince Syria to remove its SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles from Lebanon.
He also refused to comment on Premier Menachem Begin’s offer to go to Beirut for peace talks with President Elias Sarkis of Lebanon or Begin’s charge that Soviet advisors were with Syrian troops in Lebanon.
BREZHNEV’S PROPOSAL REJECTED
Meanwhile, the U.S. made it clear that it does not think the missile crisis could be ended by a general peace conference called for by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev in a speech in Tbilisi last Friday. In his speech, Brezhnev blamed Israel for the present situation in Lebanon.
At a press conference last Friday, Secretary of State Alexander Haig rejected Brezhnev’s proposal. “First, I think we are interested in an international conference which would focus on the Soviet presence in Afghanistan,” Haig said. He noted that the U.S. has been discussing the situation in Lebanon with the Soviet Union but said “It is too early to say if they make a constructive or a counter-productive contribution to the situation.”
Haig said that the U.S. “effort in Lebanon is designed, first and foremost, to quiet the situation down and to play a role which would permit the parties to return to a status quo ante, if you will, a situation that has prevailed in Lebanon from 1976 until very recently.” Haig said the U.S. is also aiming in the long term for “a return to normalcy in Lebanon and hopefully, in all ways, from the U.S. point of view, the strengthening of the central government of Lebanon and its ultimate control.”
Interestingly, the term “status quo ante” had only been used by Begin up to now in discussing the Lebanese situation. Earlier last week, Fischer used the term return to “normal” and rejected use of the term “status quo ante,” saying that it could not be sure to what situation that term referred.