JERUSALEM (Jan. 13)
Israel and Lebanon, with the active participation of the United States, achieved a breakthrough this morning on an agenda for the negotiations between them.
The elements of the agreement, which the Israelis termed highly satisfactory, were announced as the delegations from the three countries held their sixth working session at the Israeli border town of Kiryat Shmona. All points of the agenda will be dealt with “concurrently,” apparently by means of subcommittees.
OUTLINE OF AGENDA ITEMS
David Kimche, director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry who heads the Israeli negotiating team, told reporters that discussion has already begun on the first agenda item — an end to the state of war between Israel and Lebanon. Israeli sources said this had been the consistent aim of Israeli policy from the outset and applies not only to Lebanon but to all of Israel’s neighbors.
The second agenda item is titled “Security Arrangements.” The third covers the long-disputed matter of “normalization.” Although the word “normalization” does not appear in the agreement, the Israelis said they were deeply gratified because the item does contain mention of key elements of normalization.
The item, read to reporters by Kimche, is titled “A Framework for Mutual Relations” and gives specific examples, including trade ties, the passage of goods and people across the border, and communications.
The fourth agenda item deals with plans for the eventual withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon The final item is concerned with possible “guarantees” of the envisaged settlement and security arrangements.
The breakthrough, after a three-week deadlock, came at an opportune time for Israel. U.S. special Ambassador Philip Habib, who returned to the Middle East this week at President Reagan’s explicit instructions to achieve an agreement without delay, met privately with Premier Menachem Begin at the Prime Minister’s Office today.
The meeting was attended by U.S. Ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis and Begin’s personal aide, Yehuda Avner, both of whom took notes. Neither Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir nor Defense Minister Ariel Sharon had been invited to attend.
‘FRIENDLY’ LETTER FROM REAGAN
The meeting was held against the background of unofficial U.S. expressions of impatience with the slow progress of the talks to date. According to American and Israeli media reports in recent days, the Administrations impatience, from President Reagan down, was directed primarily at Israel.
Begin’s media spokesman, Uri Porat, told reporters later that the meeting had been “friendly” and that Habib had brought a “friendly” letter from Reagan to Begin. Porat had denied vehemently yesterday that the President had sent a “tough” letter to the Israeli Premier.
Porat gave no further details of Begin’s conversation with Habib. He did report that no final date has been set yet for Begin’s forthcoming visit to Washington. Some U.S. media and Kol Israel Radio reported this week that the Americans were holding up the visit pending progress in the negotiations with Lebanon.
The head of the Lebanese negotiating team, Antoine Fatale, stressed to reporters today his delegation’s praise for U.S. special envoy Morris Draper in bridging the gaps which had kept the two sides apart during three weeks of talks. Draper, Habib’s deputy, has headed the American delegation from the outset.
SHARON EXPRESSES SATISFACTION
Hints of progress were dropped earlier today by Defense Minister Sharon who expressed satisfaction with what he called the unofficial normalization process underway between Israel and Lebanon even while the two sides were deadlocked. He told reporters at the Metullah border crossing point that he was sure Israel would achieve its aims, though he counselled patience. (Related Story P. 3.)
Sharon noted that since November 15, when Metullah, Rosh Hanikra and another site were declared official border crossing checkpoints, 12,000 people had crossed from Lebanon into Israel and 1,100 vehicles made the crossing. Another 1,100 vehicles crossed from Israel into Lebanon in the two-month period. This was clear proof that real normalization was working, Sharon said.