WASHINGTON (Jan. 24)
The Reagan Administration rejected today reports that it was considering cutting off aid to Israel in an effort to achieve a “speedier withdrawal” of Israeli forces from Lebanon.
“The U.S. remains extremely concerned over the slow pace of the negotiations aimed at achieving the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon,” State Department spokesman John Hughes said. But he stressed that Secretary of State George Shultz has “on a number of occasions made it clear” that he opposes using threats of withholding aid as a means of pressuring Israel.
Hughes refused to comment directly on a report by the syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak in The Washington Post today in which they said that the National Security Council and the State and Defense departments have drafted a document, ready for the President’s signature, to cut off military aid as a means of forcing an Israeli withdrawal.
White House deputy press secretary Larry Speakes declined Immediate comment on the Evans and Novak report, saying he would neither confirm nor deny it. He said he might have a comment later in the day, after checking with the State Department. At another point in his press briefing, Speakes remarked, “I would not read anything into that,” apparently referring to the Evans and Novak column.
“Yet such is Reagan’s inclination against confrontation that not even his closest advisors can be sure he will actually invoke the embargo,” the columnists said. But Evans and Novak added that the Administration fears that if King Hussein of Jordan does not join the autonomy talks by the Administration’s mid-March deadline because the Israelis are still in Lebanon, this could mean the “collapse” of President Reagan’s Middle East peace initiative. “That is why the President is ready to buck the political furies and sign the arms embargo drafted for him.” Evans and Novak concluded.
“It sounds like someone is trying to score the Israelis,” an observer here commented.
Hughes stressed that the Administration’s policy is the one that has been enunciated by Shultz. He referred reporters to statements by Shultz in which he specifically ruled out the use of foreign aid as a weapon to compel Israel to follow U.S. wishes.
A Department source noted that at any one time there may be as many as 20 options being proposed. But he denied the Administration is even considering cutting off or withholding aid to Israel.
HABIB TO BRIEF OFFICIALS
Meanwhile, Hughes said U.S. special Ambassador Philip Habib who is on his way back to Washington from Lebanon, would be briefing Administration officials on the talks being held between Lebanon, Israel and the U.S. But Hughes denied that Habib was recalled to Washington because of the slow pace of the negotiations.
He noted that the envoy was due to return to participate in the meeting between President Reagan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt at the White House this Thursday.
ISSUE OF EARLY WARNING STATIONS
Hughes also stressed that the U.S. had “never volunteered” the suggestion or was “pressing” for the use of American personnel in the early warning stations to be set up in south Lebanon to prevent terrorist attacks on Israel.
He refused to say what the U.S. position would be if it were asked to participate in manning the stations. Lebanon wants the stations manned by a multinational force or by Americans alone Israel is demanding that it man the stations exclusively.
Hughes said he would not discuss details of the negotiations now going on. But he indicated that the U.S. is opposed to the Israeli position when he noted that the U.S. has always been clear that it wants “all PLO, all Syrian and all Israeli forces” out of Lebanon.