WASHINGTON (Jul. 1)
President Reagan denied last night that Premier Menachem Begin had promised him that Israeli military forces would not go into Beirut, directly contradicting a statement made last week by his deputy Press Secretary Lorry Speakes. Instead, Reagan said that Begin told him when the two met in the White House June 21 that Israel did not want to go into the city.
However, the President, answering questions in a press conference nationally televised from the White House, denied that he had given Israel a “green light” to enter Beirut or for the original invasion of Lebanon. He said he believed before the Israelis launched the “Peace for Galilee” operation and still believes the situation can be handled through diplomatic methods.
Speakes’ statement last Thursday that Begin had given assurances on west Beirut and a report that a similar message had been sent to Saudi Arabia by Vice President George Bush and National Security Advisor William Clark are believed to be one of the reasons for Secretary of State Alexander Haig’s resignation last Friday. Haig reportedly accepted the Israeli view that such a signal would encourage the Palestine Liberation Organization to continue fighting and thus prolong the conflict in Lebanon.
But when he was asked about the Speakes statement last night, Reagan replied: “I think also his (Speakes) not having heard the original — the conversation between Prime Minister Begin and myself, that what he (Speakes) called a promise actually was in a discussion in which, to be more accurate, the Prime Minister had said to me that they didn’t want to go into west Beirut, and that they had not wanted to from the beginning.”
DENIED ‘CONFLICTING SIGNALS’
The President, while refusing to give any explanation of Haig’s resignation, denied there had been “conflicting signals” on the Mideast, “We have been in constant communications through the State Department with Phil Habib (his special envoy for the Lebanese situation), and taking much of our lead from his reporting of what’s going on there and what we can do that would — might be helpful.”
Reagan said that when he speaks to ambassadors privately he always informs the State Department and others of the discussion.” There has never been any dual track or confusion with regard to our communications,” he said.
He stressed that there will be no change of policy when George Shultz becomes Secretary of State. The President refusing to condemn Israel’s action in Beirut, stressed that “We were not warned or notified of the invasion.” But he noted that “there had been a breaking of the cease-fire which had held about II months” and for which he praised Habib highly for establishing and helping to maintain.
But he noted that “We have a situation in Lebanon, in which there was a force, the PLO, literally a government within a government, and with its own army. And they had pursued aggression themselves across the border by way of rocket firing and artillery barrages.”
U.S. HAS 3 GOALS
Reagan added that for seven years Lebanon has been “divided into several factions, each faction with its own militia — not a government in control.” He added that the PLO has been in the country as well as an “invasion of other forces, the presence of the Syrians.”
Reagan listed three goals the U.S. has in Lebanon. The first is for the Lebanese factions to “come together” and form a central government and “have control of their own country and to have a single Lebanese army.”
The second “would be the guaranteeing of the southern border with Israel; that there would be no longer a force in Lebanon that could, when it chose, create acts of terror across the border.”
The third goal listed by Reagan “is to get all foreign forces — Syrians, Israelis and the armed PLO — out of Lebanon.” The President added that he differentiates between the PLO and Palestinians. “When these other things are accomplished once and for all to deal with the problems of the Palestinians, and settle that problem within the proposals and the suggestions that were made in the Camp David accords” is another goal.
Asked about the Israeli use of cluster bombs in Lebanon, Reagan said “it concerns me very much” and “we have a review going now, as we must by law, of the use of weapons and whether American weapons sold there (to Israel) were used offensively and not defensively. And this situation is very ambiguous.” He explained by ambiguous he meant that “prior to this attack Soviet-built rockets and 180-millimeter cannons were shelling villages across the border in Israel and causing civilian casualties.”
However, Reagan said he does not have an official report yet and only knows about the newspaper reports of Israeli Gen. (res.) Aharon Yariv’s briefing admitting that cluster bombs were used.