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Begin’s Threat to Remove Syrian Missiles Not an ‘ultimatum’ to Habib’s Mission, Spokesman Says

Premier Menachem Begin did not intend to lay down any “ultimatum” when he said Sunday that if U.S. special envoy Philip Habib’s mission did not make progress Israel would resort to other means to remove the Syrian anti-aircraft missiles from Lebanon. This was clarified today by Begin’s spokesman, Uri Porat in the wake of an angry public response to Begin’s remarks by a U.S. State Department spokesman.

At an election rally in Netanya, Begin told a large crowd that he would tell Habib, due here tomorrow or Thursday from Damascus, that if President Hafez Assad of Syria did not remove the missiles, Israel would do so itself. The State Department spokesman stressed in an obvious reaction to this statement that the U.S. would not be dictated to as to the time table of Habib’s effort.

Begin’s spokesman made it clear today that if Habib felt he was making progress, the Israeli Premier would certainly agree to give him all the time he thought he needed to bring about a diplomatic settlement of the missile crisis. The spokesman said the State Department was in error if it interpreted Begin’s words as an “ultimatum.”

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