NEW YORK (Jun. 12)
Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Elie Salem and special U.S. Mideast envoy Morris Draper expressed optimism today that Syria will eventually withdraw its troops from Lebanon but stressed that Syria does not have to accept the Lebanese-Israeli agreement.
Both Salem and Draper, in separate interviews on the ABC-TV “This Week with David Brinkley” program, felt that Syria would eventually withdraw because of Arab consensus for an Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon which is contingent on a Syrian withdrawal and also support for the Lebanese-Israeli agreement by the U.S. and Lebanese Parliament. The Lebanese Parliament is expected to ratify the agreement next week.
“I believe that Syria cannot approve of the agreement, but I think a time will come in the near future when Syria will be willing to discuss with the Lebanese the withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon, ” Salem said in an interview taped yesterday. “It can do so without approving the agreement” between Israel and Lebanon, he added.
NO FORMAL LEBANESE LETTER NEEDED
Salem added that he believes it will not be necessary for Lebanese President Amin Gemayel to request in a formal letter to Syrian President Hafez Assad that he withdraw his troops from Lebanon. He noted that Lebanon had asked the Arab League to end the Syrian mandate which it gave in 1976 to Syria to act as an Arab deterrent force during the 1975-76 Lebanese civil war. Salem said the Arab League, at its summit conference in Fez, Morocco last September, “took note” of this request.
Salem said that because of the “international dimensions” of the Middle East conflict, particularly the Lebanese situation, that Secretary of State George Shultz or a representative of his would have to return to the Mideast to resolve outstanding issues between the U.S. and Syria, including the issue of the Golan Heights and also Syrian security concerns. Draper did not rule out Shultz returning to the Mideast.
After meeting with Shultz yesterday, Salem said he believed that the U.S. and Syria would soon meet to discuss the troop withdrawal issue. He told reporters that “we should be seeing soon a discourse taking place between the Lebanese and Syrians, the Americans and the Syrians, and I don’t believe there are many basic problems in this regard.”
In the television interview broadcast today, Salem predicted that once the withdrawal of foreign troops was completed, the multinational force, composed of U.S. marines and French and Italian troops, would be needed in Lebanon for about three months to a maximum of one year.
Draper also said the MNF could conceivably remain in Lebanon for several months following a withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. But he noted that the Lebanese army has shown significant progress and would be able to take care of its own nation shortly after a withdrawal process is completed.
While Draper pointed out that the Syrians “do not have to accept the” Lebanese-Israeli accord, he said the Syrians do have “to face the facts on the ground.” He said that one of those “facts” is that there are now a substantial number of Israeli forces within artillery range of Damascus. “The Israeli forces in Lebanon are poised, militarily speaking, in a very advantageous position,” Draper said.
Questioned about reports of a Soviet-U.S. dialogue for a Syrian withdrawal, Draper remained evasive of what these discussions entailed. While he said the U.S. had made clear to the Soviets the U.S. “concerns in a frank way” regarding the Soviet military build-up in the region, he said the U.S. “was not working with the Soviets actively” for a withdrawal agreement.