No Agreement Yet on Format of Israel-lebanon Talks

Talks between Israel and Lebanon did not begin today despite optimistic reports from Beirut yesterday that they would. U.S. special envoy Morris Draper held a long session with Israeli ministers last night but apparently failed to settle the key issues of the “character” and “level” of the talks.

Draper told reporters afterwards that he was still “confident all the problems can be resolved” but he would not commit himself to a specific time frame. Some observers believe a breakthrough will come during Premier Menachem Begin’s visit to Washington next week.

Israeli officials say the central dispute is over the character of the talks. The Lebanese want negotiations on the withdrawal of Israeli forces and security in a military framework. Israel insists on political negotiations over what Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir called “peaceful relations” between the two countries in the absence of a formal peace treaty.

GOVT. POSITION CRITICIZED

According to the Israelis the “character” and “level ” of the talks are aspects of the same question. If the talks are to be political, Israel wants the delegations headed by civilian personalities and has suggested that they be held on the ministerial level. Lebanon insists its delegations be headed by a military officer although it is prepared to include ranking civilians. Draper is due to return to Beirut today for further talks with Lebanese officials.

The government’s position on the formal of the talks was sharply criticized by former Premier Yitzhak Rabin in an Israel Radio interview. Rabin, a leader of the opposition Labor Party, said the government should dwell less on formalities and more on substance Israel must lower its sights and focus on the twin aims of obtaining a 40-45 kilometer security zone north of its border and ensuring the total withdrawal of Palestine Liberation Organization and Syrian forces from Lebanon. “Any attempt to instill additional (political) aims in the talks will be a mistake, ” he said. “Delaying withdrawal for months in order to achieve political goals would be unjustified.”

Shamir indicated to a group of visiting U.S. Congressmen here this week that there was little prospect of an early withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. Asked if there was a chance of an agreement by the end of the year, he replied that it would take “a number of months.” He blamed Syria which he said showed no signs of pressing the PLO to pull the remainder of its forces out of Lebanon.

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