JERUSALEM (Jul. 13)
Israeli officials have strongly denied a report in Time magazine that President Reagan in a letter last week to Premier Menachem Begin, warned that the United States could be forced to deal directly with the Palestine Liberation Organization if Israel continued to interfere with U.S. negotiations in Beirut to evacuate the PLO forces. Time magazine said Reagan’s letter was described as “the toughest from any U.S. President to an Israeli leader in years.”
The interference by Israel referred, according to Time magazine, to Israeli shelling of west Beirut and the blockade of the city last month which at times kept the leaders of the various Lebanese factions from meeting with one another and hindered negotiations by Reagan’s special envoy, Philip Habib. Time magazine also claimed that Reagan’s letter to Begin followed an angry message to Reagan from Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd who demanded that the U.S. force Israel to lift the blockade.
Israeli officials insisted here yesterday that Reagan’s letter to Begin contained no threat, not even a hint, that the U.S. would launch direct contact with the PLO, nor was any anger expressed by the two leaders during their meeting in Washington last month.
LETTER LINKED TO MORE CAUTION BY BEGIN
But informed sources confirmed last night that the message from Reagan to Begin had contained several chastening passages. They said Begin spoke to the Cabinet Sunday about the contents of the message but had not read its precise text.
Some observers linked the message to what they noted was a marked increase in recent days in Begin’s care and caution to maintain “coordination” with the U.S. At the Cabinet meeting, the Premier spoke at length of the need to give Habib time to conduct negotiations and not to fall out with Washington over the ongoing crisis in Beirut.
Some observers felt that Begin was thus softening somewhat his earlier stance which had threatened military action if the talks failed, although at the Cabinet meeting the Premier again warned that the present situation in west Beirut could not go on indefinitely and that Israel would eventually have to consider “other options.”
PREMIER URGES WISDOM, PATIENCE
But a Cabinet official quoted Begin as telling aides last night that Israel “should act with wisdom and be patient and I am convinced that the terrorists will leave Lebanon. As I have said, not a single one of them will remain.”
The official also stated that Israel will not launch an all-out attack to drive the PLO out of west Beirut while the U.S. considers a peaceful withdrawal possible. “Israel will wait so long as the U.S. believes there is a chance” for the diplomatic process, he said. “There is no need at present to consider other options.”
Some policymakers, meanwhile, continue to express open skepticism as to the PLO’s basic intention to withdraw from Beirut. They feel the organization has been playing for time all along and will continue to do so.
(In Amman, Jordan, Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher of West Germany appealed to all parties in the Lebanese conflict to end what he called “a vicious circle of violence and counter-violence.” Speaking at the start of a four-day visit to Jordan and Egypt, he said last night that West Germany was convinced that Israel could not achieve security by the use of force, but only through the recognition of Palestinian rights, including that of self-determination.)