JERUSALEM (Jan. 16)
The negotiations between Israel, Lebanon and the United States switched to a double track over the weekend. The official talks being held alternately in Kiryat Shmona and Khalde will continue on the basis of the agenda agreed to last Thursday. But parallel negotiations involving U.S. special Ambassador Philip Habib with Israelis and Lebanese–apparently in shuttles between the two countries — will proceed apace.
Premier Menachem Begin, who announced the scheme at today’s Cabinet meeting, appointed Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and David Kimche, director general of the Foreign Ministry, to comprise the negotiating team with Habib. Their first meeting was scheduled for late this afternoon. Kimche is also head of the Israeli negotiating team that has been meeting with the Lebanese and American delegations at Khalde and Kiryat Shmona for the past month.
Begin explained that the Shamir-Sharon-Kimche team would seek to reach agreements in principle with Habib. The details would be worked out at the official talks at Khalde and Kiryat Shmona.
A NUMBER OF RUMORS ARE DENIED
The reasons for the plan are not clear. Begin told the Cabinet today that Habib had brought him a letter from President Reagan in which the President asked Begin to speed up the negotiating process with Lebanon. Begin denied that Habib had suggested specific dates for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon. He also denied rumors that Israel and Syria had reached an understanding to partition Lebanon into spheres of influence.
Begin’s media spokesman, Uri Porat, said the talks with Lebanon would continue in the two countries and would not be moved to Washington or some other venue as rumored. Shamir and Kimche told the Cabinet today that the agenda agreement with Lebanon, announced last Thursday, was not final and that the Lebanese tended to interpret it differently from Israel.
According to the Foreign Minister and his aide, the Lebanese were meeting with Israel and holding simultaneous consultations with Arab countries, notably Syria. Their policy is to maneuver so that the talks with Israel continue without antagonizing Damascus.
For that reason, Beirut is stressing that the agenda item which calls for an end of belligerency between Israel and Lebanon is an agreement to talk about the withdrawal of Israeli forces and the need to return to the 1949 Armistice agreement Israel has insisted that the 1949 agreement has long been null and void.
Against that background, the Israelis appear to consider their discussions with the U.S., through Ambassador Habib to be more important than the parallel talks with the Lebanese.
But some Israeli sources expressed concern today that the U.S. appeared to be placing obstacles in the way of three key Israeli goals in Lebanon. One is the placement of early warning systems in that country until the Lebanese army gains full control of its own territory. Another is to keep the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) out of the 25-mile security zone in south Lebanon, and the third is to preserve the special status in the south of Israel’s principal ally, Maj. Saad Haddad and his Christian militia which is armed and financed by Israel.
The Americans have made it clear that Israel’s insistence on early warning stations in south Lebanon would raise a similar demand by the Syrians in their zone. The U.S. wants the status of UNIFIL preserved. Haddad would lose his special status as a consequence.