WASHINGTON (Aug. 31)
The possibility of Israel training the Lebanese army was suggested by the State Department today. Department spokesman John Hughes, in offering the suggestion, said it was not something the United States would “encourage” Israel to do but was something that could be discussed.
Hughes’ remarks came when he was asked about Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger’s statement as he was departing for Beirut today on what Weinberger called a fact-finding mission, that the U.S. would consider military as well as economic aid to Lebanon.
Hughes said that while nothing had been discussed about providing Lebanon anything above the small arms the U.S. has been supplying it, the Lebanese army will obviously need training. “Israel might be interested in helping in that,” Hughes said.
The spokesman noted that the U.S. wants to help Lebanon rebuild and hopes that other countries, private capital and international agencies will also join the effort.
Meanwhile, Hughes said that the departure of the PLO terrorists from west Beirut should be completed by tomorrow, with the last contingent going by sea. He said that the shooting down by Israel of a Syrian MIG-25 today does not appear to have affected the evacuation effort. He said that while the U.S. regrets the loss of life (a Syrian pilot was killed) Washington hopes that the dog-fight over Beirut today was an “isolated incident.”
SEEKING ‘SPEEDY WITHDRAWAL’ OF FOREIGN TROOPS
Hughes said the “speedy withdrawal” of Syrian and Israeli forces from Lebanon is “what we are seeking.” He indicated that Morris Draper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East and South Asian Affairs, will play a “key role” in negotiations to bring this about, Draper has accompanied Philip Habib the special Presidential envoy, in all his negotiations in Lebanon. Habib is expected to return to the U.S. some time soon.
Hughes said that no decision has been made yet on whether to have a special envoy for Middle East negotiations. There had been some indication that Secretary of State George Shultz had been considering appointing someone to that position, but Hughes said it is still not decided.