State Department More Cautious Than White House over Agreement to Have PLO Evacuate West Beirut
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State Department More Cautious Than White House over Agreement to Have PLO Evacuate West Beirut

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The State Department is taking a decidedly more cautious approach than the White House on whether on agreement is near that would have the Palestine Liberation Organization evacuate west Beirut.

While officials with President Reagan, who is vacationing in California, predicted a “breakthrough” soon, a State Department official noted over the weekend that “we cannot assume something will be resolved until it is resolved.” He said there are still many problems over how the PLO will leave, where it will go and what the role will be of the United States force that Reagan has offered in principle to help with the evacuation.

A number of stumbling blocks to a breakthrough on the evacuation emerged over the weekend. Syria announced that it would not permit the PLO to come to Syria, following indications last week that Syria was the most likely destination for at least 5,000 PLO people trapped in west Beirut by Israeli forces. A Syrian spokesman was quoted by the official news agency Sana as saying last Friday:

“In ordinary circumstances Syria is the homeland of the Palestinians and Arabs in general, but in the present conditions there is no room for the transfer of Palestinian fighters from Beirut to Syria.” The spokesman added: What Syria understands is that discussion is going on with the Lebanese government on the location of the PLO and its offices and not on the fighters, because their normal place is where they are right now, pending the recovery of their legitimate rights.”


State Department spokesman Dean Fischer told reporters at a briefing last Friday that Philip Habib, President Reagan’s special envoy, has been having “very intensive” negotiations with Lebanese officials aimed at an “orderly departure” of the PLO forces as soon as possible. He also acknowledged that Habib had met with Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon during the week.

Yesterday, Habib met with Lebanon’s Prime Minister Chefik al-Wazzan, President Elias Sark is and Foreign Minister Fuad Butros, but there was no reported progress in their efforts to find a solution for the situation in west Beirut and the withdrawal of the PLO.

At the same time, the U.S. Ambassador in Damascus, Robert Paganeli, conferred with government leaders in Syria and Lebanon in a reported effort to overcome Syria’s refusal to receive the PLO forces encircled in west Beirut by Israeli forces. In addition, U.S. Assistant Deputy Secretary of State Morris Draper also conferred with Syrian leaders in Damascus where he reportedly met with Foreign Minister Abdul Halim Khaddam.

Israel’s television reported yesterday that Habib had set August I as an informal target date for the withdrawal of Palestinian forces from Lebanon. It was also reported from Beirut that Habib has proposed “a pragmatic solution” to the problem of when an international force would enter west Beirut to supervise the withdrawal of the PLO forces. He reportedly suggested three related actions to take place at the same time: PLO evacuation, taken Israeli withdrawal and the arrival of the international force.

Fischer, in briefing reporters at the State Department last Friday, said Reagan’s offer to send up to 1,000 troops, which require first a request from the Lebanese government for the U.S. force and the approval of all the parties to the conflict in Lebanon, is aimed at “facilitating an orderly withdrawal of armed elements of the PLO in west Beirut.”

But Fischer stressed that the consideration now on west Beirut should not be interpreted as a lessening of the U.S. desire for an overall settlement in Lebanon which would include the withdrawal of all foreign forces from that country and “the disbanding of all armed elements.”

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