Congressman Pessimistic About Syria Agreeing to Move Troops from Lebanon

Rep. Ted Weiss (D. N. Y.) said today that after an 11-day trip to the Middle East he is “not very optimistic” about Syria’s willingness to enter negotiations for withdrawal of its troops from Lebanon.

Weiss, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, attributed the current impasse in Lebanon to the fact that “the Syrians still look at Israel’s existence as something they’re not ready to accept.”

“The only saving grace, the only possibility for hope at all, is that Syria acts out of its own self-interest as much as out of ideology,” he said at a press conference in his district headquarters. It is up to the United States and others to convince Syria to cooperate based on this rationale, he said.

“The Syrians must leave because they are consigning Lebanon to a situation of non-independence” and maintaining “turmoil in the area. The U.S. ought to make that presentation as forcefully and publicly as it can,” he said.

Weiss and nine other members of a Congressional study mission met with Premier Menachem Begin, Labor Party leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, various members of the Knesset and a “crosssection” of the population during their seven-day stay in Israel. He and fellow Foreign Affair Committee member Peter Kostmayer (D. Pa.) also met with Syrian Foreign Minister Abdul Halim Khaddam and other government officials while in that country. They spent one day in Lebanon, where they met with Foreign Minister Elie Salem.

LEBANON COMMITTED TO AGREEMENT

Weiss said he felt Lebanon was “still committed to the agreement and would like to see Syria enter” the negotiations. “I don’t think they’re overly-optimistic,” he added.

Within Israel, Weiss said, there is a general sense of “unhappiness” about the continued presence of the Israel Defense Force in Lebanon. Many Israelis would like to “at least redeploy to a more defensible position in southern Lebanon,” according to Weiss.

He also noted increased pressure on the government to withdraw the troops completely, though not without some assurance of security. He cited a recent Labor proposal to that effect.

“I think there will be a withdrawal to within that original 40-kilometer zone” and that it will be soon, Weiss said. Some in Israel even say that “whether Israel’s forces are north of its borders or south of its borders, as long as it has forces it can rely on, it is secure,” he added. A combination of Lebanese troops, with Israeli troops close in the north of Israel, plus a continued United Nations presence, would make the area secure, according to many Israelis, Weiss reported.

Meanwhile, Weiss said he felt the “Israeli government is doing everything in its power to insure that they will not have to react to” Syrian attacks “with an all-out confrontation.”

“I think both sides have taken great pains to assure one another that they” are not bent “on hostility,” he said.

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