WASHINGTON (Jan. 11)
The Reagan Administration appeared to be sending signals to Israel today beyond the dispatch of special envoy Philip Habib to the Middle East, that it wants an agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon as soon as possible.
There were reports that the date for the White House meeting between Premier Menachem Begin and President Reagan, believed planned for February, may not be scheduled until there is movement on an agreement on troop withdrawal,
State Department spokesman John Hughes denied this today, saying no date has been discussed for the meeting between the two leaders. He said the only mention made of the subject was, after Begin was forced to cancel his scheduled meeting with the President last November because of the death of his wife Aliza, that the meeting would be re-scheduled.
Habib left for the Middle East after meeting with Reagan, Vice President George Bush and Secretary of State George Shultz yesterday. He arrived in Jerusalem today, (Related story, P. I.)
The envoy said before leaving Washington that he was carrying instructions from Reagan to seek an end to the deadlock over an agenda between Lebanon and Israel. “It is a disappointment to all of us that headway has not been made,” Habib said.
No agreement has been reached on an agenda because of Lebanon’s insistence on discussing only troop withdrawals and Israel’s demand that the agenda include normalization of relations between the two countries.
Meanwhile, Hughes denied that progress on Reagan’s Middle East peace initiative, particularly efforts to get King Hussein of Jordan to join the autonomy negotiations, depended upon a resolution of the Lebanese situation.
The State Department spokesman noted that the Administration always said that the two issues were “parallel” but progress on one did not depend on progress on the other. At the same time, he conceded that Lebanon was a “complication” to the peace process. But he said Habib was pursuing with “vigor” efforts to get Arab nations to join the peace process and President Reagan’s other special envoy, Morris Draper, was using equal vigor as a mediator in the Lebanon-Israel talks.
An agreement between Lebanon and Israel on troop withdrawal is believed necessary before there can be an agreement on the withdrawal of Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces from Lebanon.