WASHINGTON (Jul. 21)
Lebanese President Amin Gemayel declared today that Israel’s decision to redeploy its troops in Lebanon is “unacceptable” and warned that it could “endanger” the peace process and the May 17 Israeli-Lebanese agreement.
At the same time, Gemayel, answering questions at a breakfast sponsored by the National Press Club, warned Syria that unless it stopped its bombardment of Beirut, Damascus could also be vulnerable.
“I don’t know when the Syrians will stop such signs of neo-terrorism,” Gemayel said of the shelling that has been going on the past few days. “I know one thing, that if they will not stop such kinds of actions, those bombs and such actions, they will be returned to Damascus itself.”
Many observers believe that the shelling by Syrian-backed groups was timed to coincide with Gemayel’s visit to Washington. He began today three days of intensive talks with the Reagan Administration to be highlighted by his White House meeting with President Reagan tomorrow.
In his speech to the Press Club, Gemayel did not mention the redeployment issue but noted that Israel signed an agreement to withdraw its troops from Lebanon and had ended the state of war between the two countries. His strongest words were reserved for Syria.
PUZZLED BY SYRIA’S POSITION
He said that “nothing” in Lebanon’s consultations with Syria during Beirut’s negotiations with Israel “led us to believe that Syrian opposition would be so violent …. We are frankly puzzled by the position of Syria.” But, he added, Lebanon will “not hesitate to adopt all appropriate measures to protect in the meantime the lives of our people and the integrity of our country.”
Gemayel noted that the efforts to get Syrian withdrawal will be high on the “agenda” in his talks with the Reagan Administration. An Administration official, briefing reporters yesterday, said that the “key problem is Syrian refusal to contemplate withdrawal” of its troops from Lebanon and all other problems, including that of Israeli redeployment, “are symptoms” of the Syrian refusal.
Gemayel stressed in his speech and his response to questions that Lebanon’s first priority is the “total complete and immediate withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon” — Israeli, Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces. He seemed to believe that the PLO would present no problem in leaving once the Syrians agree to withdraw. This is the consensus in Washington where it is felt that the PLO terrorists would pull out once they did not have the protection of the Syrian army.
Gemayel, responding to a question, said that a partial withdrawal by Israel could leave the “impression” that U.S. efforts have failed and it could thus be “exploited” by those opposed to U.S. policy in the Mideast. But above all, he expressed the fear that partial withdrawal could lead public opinion in Lebanon to believe that the country would be partitioned. At the same time, he stressed “partition will not happen because the Lebanese people will not accept it.”
The Administration official yesterday said that the Israelis have “reiterated publicly and privately their opposition to the partition of Lebanon. We hope the Syrians feel the same way.” But the official noted that in announcing its decision yesterday, Israel “certainly ensured that the subject is going to be discussed” with Gemayel in Washington. The official stressed that the “urgent” aim of the talks with Gemayel is to keep the “sense of momentum” toward national reconciliation alive in Lebanon.
Gemayel also stressed today that Lebanon is a pluralistic society with a “delicate balance” between the various groups in the country. “If we are left to ourselves, we shall work out our internal problems through consultations and dialogue.”
SITUATION WHERE LEBANESE ARMY IS IN CONTROL
He noted that where the Lebanese army is in control, security is maintained and support of the government is high. He pointed out that the same Druze and Christians who are fighting in the Shouf mountains live together in harmony in Beirut. He said the difference was that in the Shouf the occupying forces are in control.
“Where you have the Lebanese authority, where you have the Lebanese army, you have security and the national consensus is strong,” he declared. “Where you have the occupiers, you have subversion, terrorism and fighting.
“Give us our territory; give us the Shouf, the north, the Bekaa and the south and you will see that the security will be complete and the national consensus will be strong,” Gemayel pleaded.
On the Palestinians, Gemayel said he supported “the legitimate rights of the Palestinians.” But, “We cannot, of course, let Lebanon be destroyed in the process of searching for the resolution of the Palestinian problem,” he said. “We shall not allow Lebanon to become a battleground once more. No Palestinian armed forces can henceforth be allowed to operate in Lebanon.”
On the lighter side, when Gemayel was presented with a National Press Club jacket by Club president Don Byrne, he asked if it was bulletproof.