The latest round of negotiations have produced an air of optimism in Jerusalem where official circles were predicting over the weekend that an agreement with Lebanon could be concluded within one or two weeks at the most if the last remaining obstacle, the future status of Israel’s ally, Maj. Saad Haddad, is resolved.
A senior Israeli official in Washington also indicated that Israel and Lebanon are “not far from an agreement” on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon. The official, who asked not to be identified, stressed that the agreement will have to provide for Haddad’s presence in south Lebanon as leader of the security forces once Israeli troops have left. He said he believed the Lebanese government will understand that Haddad “has to stay.”
HABIB: ‘I DON’T SET DEADLINES’
But U.S. special Ambassador Philip Habib, who personally participated in the Israeli-Lebanese-U.S. negotiations last week, intimated in Cairo yesterday that he didn’t expect an agreement in two weeks. Habib, who met for 90 minutes with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, was asked by reporters to comment on an earlier report from Beirut that an agreement was likely in two weeks.
“I don’t set deadlines,” he replied. “Negotiations will continue within the framework of the general principles laid down by President Reagan.”
Another obstacle loomed, meanwhile, on the basis of a report in the Syrian government newspaper Tishrin yesterday that Syrian forces will not begin pulling out of Lebanon until all Israeli troops have left.
Habib returned to Jerusalem today for a meeting with David Kimche, head of the Israeli negotiating team. He is expected to fly to Beirut tomorrow and to return to Israel later this week to resume talks after Israel’s Independence Day ceremonies. Habib met separately last Friday with Premier Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir.
ISRAEL INSISTS ON ROLE FOR HADDAD
Israeli sources acknowledged today that the Lebanese government is still not prepared to accept Israel’s demand that Haddad be named commander of a proposed “territorial brigade” consisting of his 2,000-man Christian militia and Lebanese army regulars which would be in charge of security in south Lebanon after Israeli forces withdraw.
According to these sources, the message Habib brought with him from Beirut last week was that Haddad could be named deputy commander of the force and act as liaison officer with the Israeli army.
But Begin and Shamir continue to insist that Haddad must be the supreme commander in the security zone. Begin reportedly said Israel would never soften that position. The Israeli official in Washington suggested that Lebanese President Amin Gemayel who has compromised with various groups in Lebanon could “find a way” to compromise with Haddad who heads his own group.
The official dismissed the idea that American or other foreign troops could be used to police south Lebanon. That must be avoided “at any cost” he said. He expressed concern that the presence of American troops along the Israel-Lebanon border could lead to incidents similar to those which occurred between Israeli soldiers and U.S. marines near Beirut recently.
ISSUE OF SYRIA’S WITHDRAWAL
The official said he could not predict whether the Syrians will withdraw once Israel and Lebanon have reached agreement. He said Israel has been receiving “indications in both directions” and a great deal depends on what the Soviet Union wants inasmuch as it is heavily arming the Syrians.
But according to the official, it will be up to President Gemayel to demand that the Syrians withdraw and once they do, the remaining Palestine Liberation Organization forces will also leave because they would be without Syrian protection in Lebanon.
BASIS FOR ISRAEL’S OPTIMISM
The optimism in Israel appears to stem in part from the good progress made last week at the tripartite talks held in Netanya and in Khalde, near Beirut. The three negotiating teams listed all points on which agreement has yet to be reached and legal experts continued to work on the formulation of a draft agreement on those points on which the parties are in accord.
If the Haddad matter can be resolved at the higher decision-making level, the remaining problems could be ironed out in a week or two of intensive work and an agreement could be signed within a month, Israeli sources said. They said there was no word in Jerusalem that Secretary of State George Shultz plans to visit the region but the assumption is that he will come once the Lebanese negotiations are successfully concluded, possibly to add his name to the final document.
The Israel official in Washington said Shultz, who has never met Begin, would be welcome in Jerusalem and could raise any topic he wanted to discuss with Israeli leaders. But the official stressed that Shultz would not be able to extract any concessions from Israel that Habib was unable to get.