U.S. Terms Israel-lebanon Talks ‘a Historic First Step’

The United States, calling the start of “formal negotiations” between Israel and Lebanon “historic,” declared to day that it was “extremely pleased” that the talks had opened in the Lebanese town of Khalde today.

“The meeting today represents a historic first step in efforts to arrange the departure of all external forces from Lebanon, to restore the full sovereignty to that country and to insure the security of northern Israel,” State Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg said.

Romberg omitted again any mention of Israel’s desire for normalization of relations with Lebanon. The Reagan Administration has made clear that it would like for the talks to concentrate on troop withdrawal, Romberg refused to comment today on any of the issues raised at the opening session. At the same time, he stressed that the U.S. remains “fully engaged in the negotiating process as an active participant.”

Romberg could give no information on when talks would begin between Lebanon and Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization for removal of these external forces from Lebanon. He said this is up to the parties involved.

Meanwhile, Romberg stressed the Reagan Administration continues to oppose Israeli sovereignty or permanent control over the West Bank. His remarks were made when asked to comment on an article in the Washington Post today by Ben Netanyahu, Deputy Chief of Missions the Israel Embassy here, in which Netanyahu argued that Israel must retain control of Judaea and Samaria for its own security.

“Peace is the issue,” Romberg said. “It is our continuing conviction that Israeli security can best be assured through genuine peace between Israel and all her neighbors. As the President said on September 1, that peace cannot be achieved either by the formation of an independent Palestinian state or on the basis of Israel sovereignty or permanent control over the West Bank and Gaza.”

In his article, the Israeli official said that “given modern technology and advances in warfare, he who controls the heights of Judaea and Samaria controls Israel.” He maintained that Israel continues to be viewed by “most Arabs” in the region as an “intolerable affront.”

“Israel’s current superiority over the Arabs could be transformed overnight into extreme vulnerability if Israel were to lose military control over Judaea and Samaria,” Netanyahu wrote. He ruled out demilitarization of the West Bank and said: “Where hostility is so deeply rooted, arms so readily available and distances so compressed,” demilitarization” is wishful thinking. No country can take such a risk with its national security.”

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