WASHINGTON (Aug. 9)
Robert McFarlane, on his first trip to the Middle East as President Reagan’s special envoy for that region, appears not to be having much success so far.
One of the reasons McFarlane, Deputy National Security Advisor, replaced Philip Habib as special Mideast envoy is that the Syrians would not receive Habib in Damascus after Israel and Lebanon signed their agreement for Israel’s troop withdrawal on May 17. It was hoped that McFarlane would be better able to establish a “dialogue” with the Syrians in the U.S. effort to have Damascus agree to withdraw its troops and the Palestine Liberation Organization forces from Lebanon.
Syrian President Hafez Assad did see McFarlane last Sunday but gave him the same message he gave Secretary of State George Shultz when the Secretary made his unscheduled visit to Damascus at the end of June. The Syrians continue to reject the Israeli-Lebanese pact and demand that Israeli troops would have to fully leave Lebanon before Syria would consider withdrawing its troops.
McFarlane then went to Saudi Arabia yesterday and was reportedly kept waiting for more than 24 hours before King Fahd would see him at the Saudi summer capital of Taif. During the meeting, which began at midnight, Fahd reportedly urged the unconditional withdrawal of the Israeli troops from Lebanon.
DENIES COLD SHOULDER BY SAUDIS
At the State Department today, spokesman John Hughes, while refusing to comment on the substance of the McFarlane mission, denied he was given the “cold shoulder” by the Saudis. He said McFarlane asked for a meeting on Monday and that is what he got. Hughes added that from “personal knowledge” he knows that Fahd often holds meetings at midnight or in the early hours of the morning.
McFarlane was in Jordan today. The State Department is continuing the practice of not revealing his itinerary in advance.