WASHINGTON (Dec. 1)
Deputy Secretary of State Kenneth Dam today blamed Israel’s insistence on Jerusalem as one of the sites for the Israeli-Lebanese talks for the delay in beginning negotiations on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon.
“The current Israeli position is unacceptable to the Lebanese government,” Dam told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “The success and the stability of that government depends on the support of those within Lebanon and throughout the Arab world for whom the status of Jerusalem remains a critical issue.
“The United States acknowledges the importance of Jerusalem to Israel and to all Arab states. But insistence on a Jerusalem venue should not be made an obstacle to the start of talks on the withdrawal of external forces from Lebanon.”
GOES BEYOND EARLIER STATEMENT
Dam, in testifying before the committee on the situation in Lebanon, seemed to go further than the State Department’s official statement yesterday in which it said it was not taking sides on the Jerusalem venue issue. Dam, who is acting Secretary of State while George Shultz is out of the country accompanying President Reagan in Latin America, has worked closely on the Lebanese problem.
In his testimony today, Dam said that the start of Israeli-Lebanese talks could provide the “stimulus” for talks to begin between Lebanon and Syria and between Lebanon and the Palestine Liberation Organization for the removal of their forces.
“The continued occupation of Lebanon by foreign forces — forces that imperil Lebanese sovereignty and threaten Israeli security — is dangerous and should be unacceptable to the parties,” he said. “President Reagan is determined to see the parties get the dispute out of the trenches and onto the table. Wrangling over procedures must end, and substantive negotiations must begin.”
Once the talks began, Dam said he doubted it would take much time for arrangements for withdrawal and he believed it was still possible to accomplish this by the end of the year as the Administration had hoped. He said the U.S. has had high level talks with Syria and is convinced that Syria will withdraw its troops because it wants Israel to withdraw its troops from Lebanon.
Dam said the PLO forces that are protected by the Syrian troops would also leave. There might be some delay with other PLO forces since arrangements for finding them a new country to go to, such as was done for the PLO in Beirut, would have to be made, Dam said. He conceded that some PLO “fighters” who evacuated Beirut have infiltrated back into the Bekao valley. But he put the figure at hundreds not the thousands Israel claims.
Dam noted that once there is a withdrawal, the multinational force (MNF) now in Beirut may have to be expanded to fill the “vacum” that may be created before the Lebanese army could take full control of security. He said this vacum “could endanger Lebanese sovereignty and Israeli security.”
Lebanon asked yesterday for an increase of the MNF and Dam admitted today that the U.S. was asked to double its Marine contingent to about 2400 men. But he stressed that no decision would be made until agreements have been reached on the withdrawal of foreign forces.
Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.), the Committee’s chairman and other Committee members stressed the need for the Administration to closely consult Congress on the use of U.S. troops in Lebanon. Percy praised the democratic manner in which Israel was conducting the investigation into the Beirut massacres keeping the public informed of the evidence. He asked Dam if he could say anything about the secret investigation the Lebanese Attorney General was conducting into the massacres. Dam couldn’t but said he was assured it was as “serious” as that investigation being conducted by Israel. He stressed that the U.S. at this time must show “confidence” in the new Lebanese government “in every way.”
CITES ADMINISTRATION’S ‘SEPARATE TRACKS’
Dam said that while the Lebanese situation and Reagan’s Mideast peace initiative were being pursued by the Administration by “separate tracks,” there was a relationship between them. That relationship is symbolized by the President’s appointment of Ambassador Philip Habib as his special representative with a new mandate involving Lebanon and the broader peace process.
Dam insisted that progress was being made on the peace initiative. He said King Hussein of Jordan in his public statements has been “more forthcoming” although he has not taken “the final step” on agreeing to represent the Palestinians in the autonomy negotiations. Dam noted that “if King Hussein comes to the table, we are confident that the Israeli government will not refuse to negotiate.”
Meanwhile, it was reported today from Amman, Jordan that the PLO has agreed to participate in a commission with Jordan to draw up proposals for Middle East peace talks which will be presented to Reagan when Hussein meets with him in Washington December 21.
Reportedly, the commission will propose a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation for the negotiations which will include such Palestinians as the ousted mayors of Halhoul and Hebron, Mohammed Milhem and Fahd Kawasme, who are not official PLO members. If this was unacceptable, a reported second proposal would be for an Arab delegation which would also include Palestinians who are acceptable to the PLO but not members.
HIKE IN AID TO ISRAEL
In another Middle East development, the Senate appropriations subcommittee approved adding $125 million in economic assistance and $350 million in military aid to Israel’s 1983 foreign aid package. The Administration has urged that Congress approve its request for $1.7 billion in military aid and $785 million in economic funds for Israel.
The entire issue may be academic since the lame-duck Congress now in session is not expected to act on the 1983 foreign aid bill before the Congress expires around December 17. The bill would then be considered by the new Congress which takes office in January.