Menu JTA Search

Mcfarlane Replaces Habib As Reagan’s Mideast Representative

President Reagan has named Robert McFarlane, a deputy assistant for national security affairs, to replace Philip Habib as his personal representative in the Middle East. McFarlane, who, as Habib did, will carry the personal rank of ambassador, is expected to leave for the Middle East within a week.

The surprise announcement was made by Reagan last Friday as he concluded a 90-minute White House meeting with Lebanese President Am in Gemayel. Reagan said that Habib “must return to his business and academic duties.”

But Administration officials later conceded that one of the reasons is to bring in a “new face” in the United States diplomatic process in the hope that this will aid the U.S. effort to convince Syria to remove its forces from Lebanon Habib has not been welcome in Damascus and it is hoped that the Syrians will now receive his replacement.

But McFarlane said he has no advance commitment from the Syrians that he will be allowed to go to Damascus. “We have no reason to doubt the commitment of all countries in the area to see Lebanon able to restore its sovereignty,” he said.

GOING IN GOOD WILL

“We go in good will (to the Middle East) and anticipate the same reciprocal good will from every country in the area,” he said. Another Administration official said the United States “fully expects” that McFarlane “will be received by the Syrians.”

The 46-year-old McFarlane is a former U.S. Marine Colonel who was military assistant to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger from 1973 to 1975, served on the National Security Council from 1975 to 1977, was a staff member on the Senate Armed Services Committee from 1979 to 1981, was State Department counselor in 1981, and has been on the National Security Council since January, 1982, a position he will maintain.

Administration officials denied that the McFarlane appointment was an indication that the White House was unhappy the way the State Department had handled the situation in Lebanon. Nicholas Veliotes, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, said that both he and Secretary of State George Shultz welcomed the McFarlane appointment.

McFarlane said he will retain Richard Fairbanks as a special Mideast envoy, but left open whether Morris Draper, a former Deputy Secretary for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, would also continue as a special Mideast envoy. But he stressed he will be meeting with Habib and Draper to get their ideas.

AGREEMENT ON NEXT STEPS

Reagan, in his remarks after meeting with Gemayel, said he and the Lebanese President “have agreed on the next steps” in their efforts to get all foreign troops to leave Lebanon. Administration officials, briefing reporters on the meeting, had no explanation of what these next steps would be, except that they would include a “new flexibility.”

One official said a “strong consensus” had been reached on what the next steps should be, noting that the United States and Lebanon had up to now had their emphasis on different priorities. McFarlane said that Reugan believed that it was “incumbent on the United States to bring peace to this troubled area, first in Lebanon and then through the broader peace process.” Administration officials said the President felt that the situation in Lebanon must be solved first before the overall Mideast peace issue could be addressed.

“It is with a deep sense of conviction, commitment and hope that I undertake this assignment,” McFarlane said. He said the main concern in the area was the “human anguish” which he noted “every day worsens.”

He noted that since the war in Lebanon, there have been new perspectives in the Middle East, which is the reason he was optimistic about his efforts. He said the Palestinians have called into question the viability of relying on violence to achieve their goals while others in the area have had to question their strategy of the last 35 years.

In his farewell remarks to Gemayel, Reagan stressed that United States policy in Lebanon is based on the “full withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, support for a strong central government capable of asserting its authority over all Lebanon, and security for Israel’s northern border.”

The President pledged that “the United States remains firmly committed to the earliest possible resolution of the conflict in Lebanon.”

NEXT STORY