WASHINGTON (May. 25)
The State Department pointed today to the confrontation between Israeli and Syrian jets over Lebanon as another reason for Syria to move quickly toward reaching agreement, as did Israel, with Lebanon for the withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon.
“We have an agreement between Israel and Lebanon,” Department spokesman John Hughes said. “We’re looking for a similar kind of understanding or agreement between Lebanon and Syria ” for the withdrawal of the Syrian forces and the Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists.
“We believe that when the withdrawal of those forces has taken place, the danger of such confrontations as may have taken place today would be substantially lessened if not removed,” Hughes stressed. He said that while the U.S. was aware of the Syrian and Israeli planes passing each other in the sky over Lebanon, it could not confirm that the Syrians fired missiles at the Israeli jets.
But he said that if the reports “are true, they point up the continued danger and tension brought about by the presence in Lebanon of external forces. Such incidents are counterproductive to the efforts undertaken by the United States and countries in the region and elsewhere interested in achieving the expeditious withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and restoring stability to that country. We urge all parties to exercise full restraint.”
Hughes would not respond to questions on whether the U.S. believes Israel should be making reconnaissance flights or whether once the agreement with Lebanon is in force it would be legally able to do so.
But he noted there are “certain realities” with Israeli and Syrian troops facing each other and “while that continues you have the danger of confrontation on the ground or in the air.”
HOUSE SUPPORTS ISRAEL-LEBANON PACT
Meanwhile, the House by a 408-0 vote, adopted a resolution supporting the Israeli-Lebanese agreement and urging the “prompt withdrawal” of the Syrian and PLO forces. The Senate adopted a similar resolution by a 100-0 vote last week.
Rep. Lawrence Smith (D. Fla.), a freshman member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee who initiated the resolution, said the agreement, like the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, “has shown that a neighbor of Israel can negotiate an agreement by which both countries and the world can benefit.”
In another development, Hughes said that Secretary of State George Shultz during his visit to Damascus, had told Syrian Foreign Minister Abdel Halim Khaddam that he was “always welcome” to visit Washington. But Hughes said no formal invitation had been offered and there has been no move on either side toward arranging a visit.
Some observers believe that before the U.S. can convince Syria to withdraw from Lebanon, a visit by Khaddam or even Syrian President Hafez Assad to Washington may be necessary. Khaddam has been to Washington twice during the Reagan Administration, both times as a member of an Arab League delegation.