Focus on Issues Crisis over Syrian Missiles Seems to Have Been Placed on Back Burner
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Focus on Issues Crisis over Syrian Missiles Seems to Have Been Placed on Back Burner

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Whatever happened to the crisis over the placement by Syria of SAM-6 anti-aircraft missiles in Lebanon? It seems to have been forgotten in the last 10 days in the commotion over the violence across the Israeli-Lebanese border and the euphoria over the “cessation of hostilities” established last week.

Secretary of State Alexander Haig, in discussing the cease-fire shortly after it went into effect last Friday, said that special envoy Philip Habib would still be trying to arrange a “status quo ante” in Lebanon, which up to now has been taken to include the removal of the missiles. However, State Department spokesman Dean Fischer later refused to confirm that the removal of the missiles had been a goal of the U.S. in its efforts to ease tension in Lebanon.

Haig also indicated that the Habib mission would include all the problems in Lebanon including that of south Lebanon. Habib, after reporting to President Reagan at the White House yesterday, seemed to side-step the missile crisis. When asked directly about it, he replied that the cease-fire “satisfies the immediate requirement.” But he added the cease-fire can be used to build upon further steps although he stressed the immediate requirement is to maintain the end of shooting across the Israeli-Lebanese border.


It is apparent that the Administration believes that with Israel’s commitment to the cease-fire, there is no chance that it will carry out its threat to remove the missiles militarily. Premier Menachem Begin has been maintaining all along that Israel will act if Habib’s diplomatic efforts do not succeed within an unspecified time period.

Habib was called out of retirement May 5 to go to the Middle East to calm the tension caused by Syria’s introduction of the missiles and Israel’s threat to remove them. After three weeks, in which he conducted the first diplomatic “shuttle” since the days of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Habib returned to Washington to be praised by Reagan for a “miraculous” diplomatic effort in preventing a war from breaking out.

Habib returned to the Middle East for his third trip around July 10, just as the shooting between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization began heating up. He was in Saudi Arabia July 17 when, after the Israeli raid on the terrorist headquarters in Beirut, Reagan instructed him to go to Jerusalem to work for a cease-fire. Since then little has been heard about the missile crisis.

Habib maintained Monday that he is at the President’s “disposal” and expects to return to the Mideast. But the 61-year-old veteran diplomat retired Feb. 29, 1980 as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, after suffering several heart-attacks. He denied Monday that he was concerned about his health, saying that he had been able to do whatever was necessary in his temporary post.

But at the same time, Habib pointed out that the cease-fire could be the first step in efforts to build a “broad and lasting peace in the Middle East.” He indicated, however, that he would not be participating in this. The Reagan Administration has said several times that it has not decided whether to have a special negotiator for the Middle East such as President Carter did with Robert Strauss and Sol Linowitz.

The Administration recently has been noting that in addition to seeking a calming of tension in Lebanon, it wants to deal with the broader goals of a Mideast peace based on the Camp David process and the resumption of the autonomy talks between the U.S., Egypt and Israel.

With the latest crisis over Lebanon apparently eased, the Administration now appears to be concentrating on the broader goal as it plans for the arrival of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in Washington next week and Begin after Labor Day.

Sadat is scheduled to arrive in Washington August 4 and meet with Reagan, other Administration officials and members of Congress August 5-6. On August 7 he will go to New York for meetings with former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance and American Jewish leaders. He will also receive a medal from Mayor Edward Koch. Sadat will go to Plains, Ga. August 9 for a private meeting with former President Carter before returning to Egypt.

Sadat, who, like Begin, wanted to meet with Reagan since the new president took office in January, this week attacked Israel’s raid on civilian targets in Lebanon as “horrible” incidents that obstruct peace; but he also blamed the recent round of violence on Syrian troops in Lebanon as well as the Palestinian terrorists.

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