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State Department Considering Whether Habib Should Return to the Middle East

The State Department has “under consideration” whether U.S. special envoy Philip Habib should return to the Middle East soon. Department spokesman Dean Fischer said a decision will be made after Habib consults with Department officials.

Habib returned in early December from his fourth trip to the region since last May, stressing that all sides are committed to upholding the cease-fire across the Israel-Lebanon border which he helped to achieve last July.

However, Israel reportedly received a letter from Secretary of State Alexander Haig last week urging it not to take any action against the Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists in south Lebanon. Haig himself, while briefing reporters, expressed concern about the Soviet supply of weapons to the Palestinians. He called it “an aggravation to the efforts we have been engaged in to prevent the outbreak of conflict.”

NO COMMENT ON SEVERAL ISSUES

Fischer would not comment yesterday on Soviet supplies to the Palestinians. He said the U.S. was “anxious to reduce tensions” in the area and that any supply of weapons would “not be helpful.” He noted that Nicholas Veliotes, Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs, used the term “credible” when he spoke of reports

Fischer said he did not know when Richard Fairbanks would be going to the Middle East. Haig said last week that President Reagan had approved Fairbanks to represent the U.S. at the autonomy negotiations between Israel and Egypt. Fairbanks, a former Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations, has no background in Middle East affairs and is expected to report directly to Haig. His mission would have nothing to do with that of Habib who has been dealing with the situation in Lebanon.

Fischer also had no comment on the revelation by President Hosni Mubarak in his National Press Club speech last Friday that Egypt is supplying arms to Iraq for use in its war with Iran. The State Department spokesman observed that “arms transfer” is “delicate.” He said the U.S. has been discussing that issue with various countries and is seeking to end the war in the Persian Gulf. He denied that the U.S. is sending arms to either of the combatants.

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