WASHINGTON (May. 12)
The Reagan Administration is counting on Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon despite its opposition to the agreement between Israel and Lebanon worked out by Secretary of State George Shultz.
Shultz made this clear last night after briefing President Reagan at the White House on his two week mission in the Middle East. “They (the Syrians) have been very critical of the agreement,” he said in response to questions from reporters.
“But that is not really the question we are asking them. We are asking them to withdraw, and they have said, over quite a period of time, that they are ready to withdraw when the Lebanese ask them to withdraw,” Shultz said. He added that while the Syrians rejected the Israel-Lebanon agreement when he visited Damascus last week, “they haven’t said they won’t withdraw.”
Shultz maintained that despite “problems and difficulties” in obtaining the withdrawal of Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces still behind Syrian lines, “it is clear that there is a weight of opinion building up in the Arab world that this is the opportunity to bring about Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon along with all foreign forces.”
But in Paris today, Prince Sultan Ben Abdel Azziz the Defense Minister of Saudi Arabia, after a 3 1/2-hour meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, said that there can be no linkage between Israeli and Syrian withdrawal. He said yesterday that Saudi Arabia is “not a tool” to be used to put pressure on Syria. (See separate story.)
SAYS SAUDIS PLAY A CONSTRUCTIVE ROLE
At the State Department today, deputy spokesman Alan Romberg, declaring that the Saudis have played a “very constructive role,” said the U.S. “understands” that the Syrians see their being in Lebanon as “a different set of circumstances” than Israel. But he stressed that it is “also very clear that if there is no withdrawal of Syrian and PLO forces” there will not be an Israeli withdrawal.
Shultz also indicated this last night when he said both Syria and Lebanon “feel that the question of Syrian withdrawal is an unrelated matter” from an Israeli pullout “so there’s nothing in the agreement about Syrian withdrawal. On the other hand, the Israelis make it very clear, as you would expect, that they won’t withdraw except that there is simultaneous withdrawal by the PLO and the Syrians,” Shultz said. This is contained in a “side letter,” he pointed out.
Shultz indicated that the next step is for the Lebanese to officially ask the Syrians to leave and then to engage in “discussions” with them. Romberg seemed uncertain today whether the Lebanese request to Syria will be made publicly.
Shultz stressed, however, that he does not plan to return to the Middle East soon. “I’m planning to stay home for a while. I like it here,” he said. He emphasized that U.S. special envoy Philip Habib is still in the Middle East and that he is both “well known” to the Syrians and they “like” and “respect” him.
BOTH SIDES SATISFIED WITH CLARIFICATIONS
(Habib was in Jerusalem today after meetings with Lebanese officials in Beirut yesterday. An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said Israel was satisfied with the clarifications Habib provided on the agreement Israel accepted in principle last Friday. He said Israeli, Lebanese and U.S. negotiators would convene tomorrow in Netanya to finalize the agreement, exchange texts and decide when it will be signed.
(Lebanese officials said in Beirut last night, after their meetings with Habib, that they had clarified all points raised by Israel but could not say when the accord will be signed.)
‘SELECTED LIST’ OF QUOTATIONS
Meanwhile, after Romberg said earlier this week that he could not immediately state when Syrian officials had publicly said they would withdraw from Lebanon when Israel did, the State Department has provided a “selected” list of such statements. One quotation was from last November 20 when President Hafez Assad of Syria told the Syrian General Federation of Trade Unions in Damascus, “Today we assert that as soon as the Israeli invading forces withdraw from Lebanon, there will no problem about our forces.”
Another quotation was from Syrian Foreign Minister Abdel Halim Khaddam who told an American journalist last February 26, “Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon is no problem once Israel gets out.”
SYRIANS WILL ‘DECIDE FOR THEMSELVES’
Shultz and other Administration officials have maintained for months that they have been assured by Syrian and other Arab leaders that Syria and the PLO would withdraw from Lebanon once the Israeli army leaves. When Shultz was asked yesterday whether Syria was under pressure from the Soviet Union not to withdraw, he replied, “I do not know.”
He noted that Tass, the official Soviet news agency, published an article this week attacking the Israel-Lebanon agreement. But, he added, “I do have the impression from the history of Syria and also from direct discussions with the Foreign Minister and President Assad that these are two very independent people and I doubt that anybody is telling them what to do. I think they’ll probably decide for themselves, “Shultz said.
ACCEPTS SOVIET EXPLANATION OF PERSONNEL DEPARTURES
He said he accepted the Soviet explanation that the departure from Beirut of dependents of Soviet embassy employes there was for their normal summer holiday. Officials both in Washington and Jerusalem have seen the departure of the dependents as well as the reinforcement of Syrian forces and the PLO in Lebanon’s Bekaa valley as part of a psychological effort aimed at preventing Lebanon from signing the agreement with Israel.
But Shultz, when asked about the increased forces in the Bekaa, made no mention of the Syrians, though he noted that “Some PLO have re-entered Lebanon.” He said “That’s in violation of the agreement under which they evacuated Beirut and I think we ought to take note of that fact.” He added that this was “an unwelcome development. We want them to be moving out, not moving in.”