JERUSALEM (Apr. 27)
Secretary of State George Shultz began his Middle East mission here today, aimed at achieving an agreement between Israel and Lebanon for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from that country and security on Israel’s northern border.
Shortly after his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport from Cairo this morning. Shultz was locked in discussions with Israeli leaders. He met for more than two hours with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and his aides and later with Premier Menachem Begin in what was their first meeting since Shultz became Secretary of State. Both Shamir and Defense Minister Moshe Arens were present. Shultz meets with Begin again tomorrow before flying to Beirut.
According to sources here, Shultz heard a lengthy discourse on Israel’s position and asked probing questions but put forward no new ideas of his own.
The initial talks were described as exploratory and a review of the outstanding differences between Israel and Lebanon which have not been resolved after more than four months of negotiations. Israeli sources said Shultz’s questions seemed aimed at finding “room for maneuver” out of which he could introduce compromise proposals of his own at a later stage.
COMPLAINTS AGAINST LEBANESE GOVERNMENT
The Secretary of State also heard bitter complaints against the Lebanese government of President Amin Gamayel. The Israelis appeared especially angry over current Lebanese measures taken against Israeli goods and local Lebanese merchants dealing with Israel. He was told that goods from Israel were being impounded or burned and the merchants harassed and arrested.
The Israelis indicated that they were prepared to negotiate de facto trade arrangements with Lebanon, given Beirut’s reluctance to enter into normal relations at this time. But they would not do so without a modicum of trust on the part of the Lebanese and this, they said, was being eroded by the behavior of the Lebanese authorities. If trade with Israel was being blocked now, it would fare much worse after the Israel army left Lebanon, Shultz was told.
But the most serious issues the American diplomat will have to resolve concern security in south Lebanon and how and by whom it will be ensured. Israeli sources made it clear today that they will not budge from their demand that their ally, Maj. Saad Haddad, be placed in full command of security forces in that region. Beirut, which regards Haddad as a deserter, has balked.
Some sources believe Shultz might work out a formula whereby Haddad would exercise military command but without the titles or rank that normally go with it, as a face-saving device for Beirut, Nevertheless, the Israelis seem at this juncture determined to maintain Haddad and his 2,000-man Christian militia as their surrogate in south Lebanon.
FOCUS ON ISRAELI’S SECURITY CONCERNS
Before meeting with Shultz, Begin told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Security Committee that he would focus on Israel’s security concerns in south Lebanon rather than its political aspirations. But he said he had extracted from Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres an acknowledgement that he supports a firm Israeli stand on Haddad.
The opposition leader, nevertheless, delivered a withering attack on the government’s post-war policies. He said the results of the war in Lebanon were “worse and more complex than our worst dreams.”
Other issues raised with Shultz were the future of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) which the Israelis want out; joint patrols by the Israeli and Lebanese armies in the security zone which reportedly have been agreed to in principle but are in dispute over details; the legal implications of an agreement, for example would it mean mutual recognition between Israel and Lebanan; and trade and tourism which are termed “mutual relations.”
But the Israelis insisted that the Haddad issue was paramount and once resolved, everything else would fall into place.
Shultz declared on his arrival at Ben Gurion Airport this morning that “so much has already been achieved in the negotiations that none of us can allow it to fail.” He agreed with Shamir, who was on hand to greet him, that some of the remaining issues will be “difficult” to resolve. But the “immediate task,” he said, was “bringing peace to Lebanon, restoring Lebanon’s sovereignty, withdrawal of all foreign forces and ensuring peace and security on (Israel’s) northern border.”
‘WE COME IN FRIENDSHIP’
He said his talks here would also encompass bilateral relations and “the broader process of helping to bring peace between Israel and all of its neighbors. President Reagan is committed to this process as he is committed without qualification to the survival, security and well being of Israel,” Shultz said.
He said Reagan sent him here to work on “new steps” toward peace. “We come in friendship … We want this period to be remembered as a time of successful collaboration in the tradition of the unique relationship that binds us,” Shultz said.
Shamir praised the Secretary’s “earnest desire for a deeper understanding of our concerns and objectives.” He predicted that “Your visit will no doubt contribute to the solution of the pending problems in the Lebanon issue.”
A senior Israel source who briefed local and foreign news media after Shultz’s initial meeting with Shamir seemed distressed when a reporter said the impression he gathered from the briefing was that an agreement is “imminent.” The source stressed that he was not prepared to say that at this time but he believed an agreement certainly was possible.
Shultz is expected to return to Jerusalem from Beirut tomorrow night and meet again with Begin and Shamir Friday morning. He also plans to visit Jordan and Saudi Arabia and probably Damascus. Sources here said his Middle East mission could last as long as three weeks.
REAGAN SEES ‘A FEW STICKING POINTS’
(President Reagan said today in New York that there are only “a few sticking points” preventing an agreement between Israel and Lebanon and “that is why George Shultz has gone now to see if they can be removed.” Reagan, addressing a meeting of the American Newspaper Publishers Association, also observed that Syria and the PLO have pledged to withdraw their forces from Lebanon if Israel agrees to pull out.
(He said in reply to questions that he did not believe the U.S. marines now in Beirut as part of the multinational force would become involved in combat. Reagan said the marines would be withdrawn as soon as Lebanon assumes sovereignty over all of its territory. Reagan did not say how long this might take nor did he predict when an agreement between Israel and Lebanon would be achieved.)