JERUSALEM (Apr. 28)
Secretary of State George Shultz met with Premier Menachem Begin for 90 minutes this morning before flying to Beirut to continue his shuttle diplomacy aimed at achieving an agreement between Israel and Lebanon. He is due back here tonight and will hold further talks with Begin and his senior ministers tomorrow morning.
The American diplomat spent most of yesterday listening to Israel’s leaders appraise the situation with respect to the negotiations with Lebanon and their explanation of Israel’s position. At a dinner given in his honor by Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir last night, Shultz did not deal in specifics. But his speech, obviously carefully and pointedly warded, stressed that the time for talk has ended and “the time to decide” is now at hand.
“The negotiation has gone on for four months,” Shultz noted. “If the remaining issues had been easy, they would already have been settled. They have been debated, analyzed, pored over, agonized over. Now is the time to resolve them. As the Bible tells us, to everything there is a season … Now is the time to decide. As in every negotiation, there must be compromise. For every risk that is taken, there is gain. And the risks of failure are far greater than any risks of an agreement as it is now envisaged.”
Shultz added: “If we succeed in Lebanon … we will have enlarged the circle of peaceful relationships between Israel and its neighbors. The peace process continues. It must continue and it must advance.” He warned that “To cease our efforts is to allow bitter wounds to fester … President Reagan is committed to working with you on the noble enterprise of peace-making.”
FOCUSING ON ONE ISSUE AT A TIME
Shultz appeared to be indicating in those remarks that once an accord with Lebanon is achieved, the Administration will want to move ahead briskly with its efforts to revive Reagan’s September I Middle East peace initiative. But neither the Reagan plan nor the Palestinian issue was raised during the Secretary of State’s meetings with Israeli leaders yesterday and this morning. Shultz is concentrating on one issue at a time and an agreement between Israel and Lebanon clearly has top priority on his agenda at present.
The Israelis, for their part, sought to focus American attention on what they regard as the growing menace of the Soviet presence in Syria. Begin pressed that point at his meeting with Shultz last night, attended by Israel’s ranking civilian and military policymakers.
Begin insisted that Israel and the U.S. had an urgent and abiding mutual interest in standing up to this “threat. ” Shultz also expressed concern about the Soviet build-up in Syria. But members of his entourage expressed some surprise at the intensity with which Begin pushed the view that security in the north involved not only local problems along the Lebanese border but the strategic military challenge posed by Soviet-backed Syrian forces in eastern Lebanon. Begin introduced Shultz to Israel’s new chief of military intelligence, Gen. Ehud Barak who told the Secretary that new, Soviet-manned electronic warfare helicopters are flying over Syria; 800 Soviet T-72 tanks have been added to Syria’s stock of 3,500 tanks; a Soviet communications facility near Damascus enables direct contact with Moscow; and that Syria is increasing its standing army to 400,000 men by deferring mobilizations and calling up new groups of soldiers.
Government officials promptly supplied that information to the news media which published it immediately after it was submitted to Shultz. American journalists accompanying the Secretary of State pondered the signficance of this Israel ploy.
Some suggested that Begin is looking for political support at home for a withdrawal from Lebanon in order to reduce the risk of war with Syria. Others maintained that Begin is trying to divert American opinion to the issue of a Soviet menace in order to justify a continued Israeli presence in Lebanon.