JERUSALEM (Jul. 7)
Secretary of State George Shultz left Israel today conceding that he could not “claim any substantive achievement by way of withdrawal” of Syrian forces from Lebanon.
He was referring to his five-hour meeting with President Hafez Assad in Damascus yesterday at which the Syrian leader refused to budge from his opposition to the Israel-Lebanon withdrawal agreement or to agree to pull out his own troops. Nevertheless, he told reporters here, the Syrians have been careful “to leave the door open” for further dialogue with the U.S.
Shultz, who is stopping briefly in Jordan and Egypt before returning to Washington tomorrow, had a private meeting with Premier Menachem Begin this morning. They were joined later by Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir, Defense Minister Moshe Arens and senior military officers. The main issue at those talks was Israel’s proposed “redeployment” of its forces in Lebanon to shorter, more secure lines.
Shultz expressed Lebanon’s grave misgivings over such a move but was non-committal about the American attitude. He implied, however, that Washington was not enthusiastic. “We have to look at our key long-range objectives and then judge any particular proposal in terms of those objectives,” he said. The Administration’s objective, as reiterated in Washington this week, is the “concurrent” withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.
Shultz said the Israeli move will have to “reflect timing and setting … That’s the way we have looked at it, but I’ve listened carefully to the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister and Defense Minister discuss these subjects and I think I have a clear idea of their views as I do the Lebanese views.”
TIMING OF REDEPLOYMENT
Israeli sources said later that the U.S. recognized and accepted the redeployment decision and that the “how and when” of it is “an Israeli prerogative.” However, Shultz did not directly express the American position and there would be further consultations.
Observers here believe there will be no redeployment of Israeli forces in Lebanon until after Begin meets with President Reagan in Washington on July 27. Shultz said the U.S. was “pleased” that there would be “a continuing pattern of close consultation with all the parties.” This was a reference to the creation in Damascus yesterday of a U.S.-Syrian joint committee on “Lebanese sovereignty and independence” which was apparently Shultz’s sole agreement with Assad.
The U.S. will be represented on this “working forum” by Nicholas Veliotes, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affai###. But the first meeting will take place only in September when the United Nations General Assembly convenes in New York. Israeli circles took this to mean that the U.S.-Syrian consultations “will hardly be intensive.”
Shultz told reporters before his departure that he had found “universal support for the importance of a strong sovereign central government in Lebanon and it was very good to have that objective reaffirmed.”
The Secretary’s decision to visit the Middle East was announced unexpectedly when he was in Pakistan last week, the final stop on an extensive tour of the Far East. He visited Saudi Arabia and Syria before coming to Israel last night and is due to meet with King Hussein of Jordan and President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt before returning home.
He left the impression here that despite their adamancy, the Syrians have reasons to “leave the door open” and have indicated their desire to maintain some sort of dialogue with Washington, however tenuous, if only to retain some degree of independence from the Soviet Union, their chief ally and military supplier. That in itself saved Shultz’s latest mission from total failure, sources here said.