JERUSALEM (Jan. 12)
Premier Menachem Begin’s office reacted angrily today to reports from Washington hinting that unless there is quick progress in the negotiations between Israel and Lebanon, Begin’s visit to President Reagan at the White House next month might be postponed.
Begin’s media spokesman, Uri Porat, denounced reports to that effect carried on the State-owned Kol Israel Radio as “ridiculous” and “calculated to fabricate history.” It is inconceivable, he said, that a superpower would base its policy decisions on “the caprices of certain officials and journalists.”
He denounced the “infantile standards” reflected by such reporting and insisted that the U.S. delegation, far from being impatient with Israel over the lack of progress in the negotiations to date has in fact “drawn very, very close to Israel’s starting position” which centers on drafting an agenda for the talks.
U.S. SENDING SIGNALS TO ISRAEL
Nevertheless, the Reagan Administration appeared to be signaling Israel yesterday that it wants a speedy agreement on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon. The Kol Israel broadcast, which cited official U.S. sources, and a Washington Post report, intimated that Reagan sent a tough letter to Begin through his special Ambassador, Philip Habib, who returned to Jerusalem yesterday. Porat insisted there was no such letter.
State Department spokesman John Hughes denied yesterday that a date for Begin’s meeting with Reagan would not be scheduled until there is movement in the negotiations with Lebanon. But Hughes also denied that any specific date existed at this time. Begin had been scheduled to meet with Reagan last November but was forced to cancel because of the death of his wife, Aliza.
The Kol Israel report said U.S. officials were weighing other factors in considering whether or not to postpone the Reagan-Begin meeting. These factors were said to include President Yitzhak Navon’s promise to announce shortly whether he will enter politics when his term of office expires later this year, and the findings of the commission of inquiry into the Beirut refugee camps massacre which are expected to be announced within the next few weeks.
Navon, a former Labor Party MK, has been mentioned as a possible rival to Begin in the next Knesset elections, should he return to politics. The findings of the commission, if adverse to the Begin government, could have a serious impact on its political fortunes.
ISRAEL TO DECIDE ON U.S. PROPOSAL FOR AGENDA TEXT
Meanwhile, Begin chaired a meeting of senior Cabinet ministers and other officials here today to decide on Israel’s response to the latest U.S. proposals for a draft agenda. Israeli sources disclosed later that Israel would seek “certain changes” in the U.S. proposed text when the negotiators reconvene in Kiryat Shmona tomorrow for their sixth round of talks.
The consensus here is that Israel will accept the latest American draft if the Lebanese do. The latter rejected an American agenda proposal submitted late last week which Israel had been prepared to accept in principle with certain textual changes.
Reports from Beirut yesterday indicated that the Lebanese are how prepared to accept a revised American draft. Observers here are predicting a breakthrough at tomorrow’s meeting at Kiryat Shmona.