Washington (Jun. 16)
President Reagan conceded today that Israel had reason “for concern” over Iraq and “might have sincerely believed it was a defensive move” when it destroyed Iraq’s nuclear reactor June 7.
But Reagan said he could not make a final determination whether Israel had violated U.S. law in using the American-made planes for the raid until the Administration completes its “review” of the raid and Congress holds hearings. The House Foreign Affairs Committee is scheduled to start hearings tomorrow. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee plans to begin its probe on Thursday.
WARNS ISRAEL, SYRIA ON MISSILES
At the same time, answering questions at his first formal White House press conference in three months, Reagan said he hoped that his special Middle East envoy, Philip Habib, will be successful in bringing about a peaceful settlement of the Lebanese crisis. He warned that if either Israel attempts to knock out Syria’s SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles, or Syria fires the missiles at Israel, it would end prospects for peace.
The President said that the Syrian missiles were “offensive weapons” and there was “no question about the direction in which they were aimed.” Although he did not specify, it appeared clear he was saying that the missiles were aimed at Israeli aircraft.
However, the President also said that he believed in Habib’s ultimate success because up to now, his achievements have been “miraculous” since when the envoy first went to the area several weeks ago, the “weapons were cocked” and war appeared likely. “Until he comes home and says ‘I give up’, I will continue to believe he can do it,” Reagan declared.
REAL PEACE “LONG OVERDUE”
But, the President noted, the Israeli raid on Iraq, as well as the situation in Lebanon, “is further evidence that real peace, a settlement of all the Mideast problems, is long overdue.” He said the Iraq raid, the Lebanese situation, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraqi-Iranian war are “compelling reasons” to seek a stable peace in the Middle East.
Reagan said he had not given much thought to the fact that Israel had not signed the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty but added that nations that have signed the treaty have not been prevented from violating it.
ISRAEL NOT A THREAT
“It is difficult for me to envision Israel as being a threat to its neighbors,” the President said. “It is a nation that from the very beginning has lived under the threat from neighbors that did not recognize its right to exist.”
On the Israeli raid, Reagan noted that he had condemned it and found that it “may have violated” U.S. law since American planes and other weapons were used. He did not mention the U.S. suspension of delivery of four U.S. F-16s to Israel which had been scheduled to go last Friday.
But, Reagan said, he could understand Israel’s concern. “One has to recognize that Israel has reason for concern in view of the past history of Iraq which has never signed a cease-fire or recognized Israel as a nation.”
Reagan noted that he stressed the need for a “real peace” in the Middle East when he met with five Arab ambassadors at the White House last week. Later the same day, Reagan also met with Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron.