WASHINGTON (Sep. 8)
President Reagan, in presenting the Medal of Freedom last night to his special Middle East envoy, Philip Habib, declared that Habib’s accomplishments in Lebanon made possible the President’s new Middle East peace initiative.
“What he accomplished was the vital first step which made it possible for launching a fresh start in the quest for peace, not only for Lebanon, but for Israel and its Arab neighbors, as well,” Reagan said.
Habib, who Reagan called a “great American,” replied that while the situation in Lebanon “remains extremely tenuous,” he believed that “it is going to stay on track, partly because of the initiative you (Reagan) most recently took with respect to peace in the Middle East.”
The medal, the highest civilian award in the United States, was given at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, within an hour after Reagan’s return from his vacation in California. The Reagan’s brought back with them from California Habib’s wife, Marjorie, who had not seen her husband since he went to Lebanon in June.
Reagan will discuss the next steps in Lebanon and the Mideast with Habib at a White House meeting this afternoon which Secretary of State George Shultz and National Security advisor, William Clark are also scheduled to attend.
UNIQUE FEATS OF DIPLOMACY CITED
The citation for the medal, which Reagan read to an audience of some 300 persons, noted that the 62-year-old Habib, a former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, came out of retirement in May, 1981, to deal with the crisis in Lebanon at the President’s request. “His successful negotiations of the cease-fire and the resolution of the west Beirut crisis stands out as one of the unique feats of the diplomacy in modern time,” the citation read.
“Ambassador Habib’s efforts, conducted in the most difficult and trying of circumstances, over a period of months, not only brought honor and respect to the United States but also won for him world-wide admiration. Of the greatest importance, Philip Habib’s mission saved the city of Beirut and thousands of innocent lives and brought us one step closer to a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”
Habib, who was born in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, noted that “it was particularly fitting, considering that my mother and my father are from Lebanon that their son had something to do with winning a bit of peace for that harried land.”
Habib, also had praise for his “right-hand man” Morris Draper, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, who has accompanied Habib on all his Mideast missions. Draper is expected to return to Lebanon to carry out the continued negotiations for the withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli forces.
The State Department was not sure yesterday whether Habib would be continuing his negotiating role but indicated he may return to Beirut for the inaugural of Lebanese president Bashir Gemayel.
The ceremony last night was attended not only by the Cabinet and White House and State Department officials but also by many people who dealt with the Mideast problem in past Administrations. Among those present was Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arens, who had a front place seat at the ceremony.