JERUSALEM (May. 1)
Secretary of State George Shultz returned from a 36-hour stay in Beirut today for his third round of talks with Israeli leaders since he began his shuttle mission last Wednesday. He conferred at length with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and was scheduled to meet with Premier Menachem Begin this evening.
The Cabinet met for an hour this morning, prior to Shultz’s return, to discuss the progress of the talks. The ministers were told that the picture would be clearer after Israel hears Shultz’s report on his meetings with President Amin Gemayel, Prime Minister Shafiq Wazzan and other Lebanese officials in Beirut.
According to Cabinet sources, the Secretary of State has been “academic and very pleasant” while listening to the positions of both sides but has not yet advanced any American formula to bridge the gap between them, Israel, for its part, has given Shultz “signals” on some of the disputed issues “indicating which direction he could usefully work.” The sources declined to identify those “signals” as “concessions” or a “softening of positions.”
AREAS OF FLEXIBILITY
They indicated that Israel is prepared to show some flexibility on the future status of its ally, Maj, Saad Haddad whom it wants placed in command of security forces in south Lebanon after Israeli troops withdraw. The sources implied that Israel might waive the “formalism” of rank or title for Haddad as long as he retains the substance of command.
They also intimated that Israel might withdraw somewhat from its earlier objections to the continued presence of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in south Lebanon. Israeli negotiators seem prepared to consider proposals for some limited role for UNIFIL, possibly supervising security around the Palestinian refugee camps or, at least the El Hilwe camp near Sidon.
THE LEBANESE TERMS
U.S. and Lebanese officials apparently agreed that progress had been made during Shultz’s talks with Lebanese leaders yesterday and today. Wazzan told reporters in Beirut that Shultz would return to Jerusalem with a document containing Lebanon’s final position for an agreement with Israel. He said he hoped the next time the Secretary visits Beirut it will be with an agreement from Israel.
The Lebanese terms, it was understood, call for the withdrawal of some 30,000 Israeli troops from their country simultaneously with the pull-out of Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces. Security arrangements in south Lebanon would be spelled out in a long annex to the agreement.
An understanding over trade and other relations between Israel and Lebanon in the future would be contained in letters that the U.S. government would send to Israel and Lebanon. The Lebanese refuse to sign a formal peace treaty with Israel at this time.
SHULTZ SUGGESTS MAY 8 DEADLINE
Shultz has suggested that May 8 might be his deadline for wrapping up an agreement between Israel and Lebanon. He is scheduled to attend meetings in Europe that day, American officials here were upset by a report in Maariv today claiming that Shultz said he was prepared to stay in the region as long as necessary to achieve an agreement; even longer than Secretary of State
American officials are concerned that such an open-ended commitment would cause both sides to delay any meaningful concessions for weeks.
Cabinet sources stressed today that Shultz has made it clear that part of his present mission is to improve U.S. relations with all countries in the region, “above and beyond the specific issue of Lebanon.” The sources claimed Shultz had said as much during his meeting with American Ambassadors to Middle East countries in Cairo a week ago and confirmed it during his talks in Jerusalem.
According to the sources, Israel is wary of that objective although it would welcome the prospect of improved relations with Washington. But the Israelis seem to fear they may be required to “pay” for improved bilateral relations with the U.S. with concessions over Lebanon. The sources claimed that the security issues involved in Lebanon were not directly affected by improved ties with Washington or the prospect of more arms from the U.S.