JERUSALEM (May. 3)
Israeli sources spoke of “additional progress” today as Secretary of State George Shultz flew back to Beirut for further discussions with Lebanese leaders after two days of intensive working sessions with senior Israeli officials. Shultz is due back here tonight or tomorrow.
The sources, who have been stressing the “very good atmosphere” surrounding the talks with Shultz, said today that a number of issues have been resolved or were “on the way to resolution.” They explained that “resolution” in this case referred to agreement between Israel and the U.S. But they assumed that Shultz by now has a good idea of what the Lebanese can be expected to accept or reject.
One key source said Shultz had “things to take with him to Beirut, otherwise he wouldn’t have gone.” The implication was that he is carrying formulations of an evolving Israeli-Lebanese agreement to President Amin Gemayel which could result in an accord.
The overall feeling in Israeli circles seems to be that Shultz’s shuttle mission is moving forward satisfactorily. A similar view was evident among American officials here who said the Secretary still considered his task “do-able,” the word he used when he flew to Jerusalem from Cairo a week ago.
THE BIG QUESTION MARK
The big question mark is the position Syria will take in the event of an agreement between Israel and Lebanon. Israeli observers surmise that U.S.-Syrian contacts have been quietly under way for some time and that Shultz has reason to believe, or at least hope, that the Syrians will agree to pull their forces out of Lebanon once an accord is reached for the Israelis to do the same.
Shultz expects to be in Damascus this Friday. An official invitation was relayed to him through the U.S. Ambassador there. Meanwhile, U.S. officials accompanying Shultz are reluctant to comment on the hardline statements by President Hafez Assad and Syrian Foreign Minister Abdel Khalim Khaddam in the last two days.
Assad warned publicly yesterday, after he met with Lebanese Foreign Minister Elie Salem, that Syria would oppose “any gains that Israel is trying to achieve” in its negotiations with Lebanon. He urged the Lebanese to stand firm against Israel’s demands and to “impose an Israeli withdrawal without any prejudice to (Lebanon’s) freedom and sovereignty.”
Khaddam declared that “Any Israeli gains in Lebanon will result in Syrian troops remaining in Lebanon until those gains cease to exist.”
Shultz evidently hopes to have an agreement between Jerusalem and Beirut in hand by the time he goes to Damascus. U.S. officials made it clear last night that he is determined to press his mission to a successful conclusion and will return to the Middle East if necessary after attending a NATO meeting in Paris next Sunday and Monday.
SERIES OF BRIEF SESSIONS
Israeli sources summed up Shultz’s latest round of talks here which began Sunday and continued through this morning, before the Secretary flew to Beirut. They said the talks consisted of relatively brief sessions on the ministerial level and much longer deliberations with working groups consisting of military and civilian aides.
At the latter sessions, the sensitive issue of the role of Israel’s ally, Maj. Saad Haddad, was never raised. Israeli sources assume Shultz discussed this in his talks with Premier Menachem Begin, Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Moshe Arens.
The sources said the most time consuming issues were joint patrols in the security zone north of Israel’s border, the future role of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) and future Israeli-Lebanese relations, particularly trade relations.
Israel wants joint patrols consisting of its own and Lebanese army forces to function from “operational bases” in south Lebanon. The Lebanese flatly reject the idea of Israeli troops remaining even over night on Lebanese soil on grounds that Lebanon’s sovereignty would be compromised. Also in dispute is whether the joint patrols will be equipped to do battle with terrorist infiltrators or be merely supervisory.
Shultz has made it clear that no U.S. personnel would be assigned a combat role in south Lebanon as part of an expanded multinational force. But it is still possible that the U.S. would agree to expand the MNF and employ it in south Lebanon in a supervisory capacity. The MNF is presently confined to Beirut and its environs.
With respect to UNIFIL, Israel wants it out of the region altogether, or, at most, in a strictly limited role. On the issue of trade, Israel wants normal commercial relations with Lebanon but the Beirut government is unwilling to remove the Arab League boycott laws from its statutes at this time.