U.S. Denies It Has ‘secret Deal’ with Syria in Which Syrians Would Keep the PLO out of the Shouf Are

The State Department denied today that there was any “secret deal” between the U.S. and Syria in which the Syrians would keep the Palestine Liberation Organization out of the Shouf mountains in Lebanon.

But State Department spokesman John Hughes indicated that the U.S. would not be displeased if the Syrians were able to accomplish this. “Obviously, we favor the removal of the PLO from Lebanon by any means that can be achieved, as we favor the departure of the Syrians and Israelis,” he said.

The reported deal, according to a syndicated column by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak published in The Washington Post today, would be aimed at a Syrian guarantee of Israel’s northern borders. However, the Syrian drive now to push out the PLO is seen here as part of the effort by President Hafez Assad to gain control over Yasir Arafat’s forces.

Hughes’ remarks were made after he labeled “incorrect” the Evans and Novak column which said Secretary of State George Shultz was trying to “undercut” the U.S.-Syrian deal in a dispute with National Security Adviser William Clark.

The column claimed that Shultz considered both Clark and his deputy, Robert McFarlane, who is President Reagan’s special envoy in Lebanon, as being “pro-Arab” and that Shultz had made a “public outburst” about Clark’s trip to Rome October I to confer with McFarlane.

Hughes said that Shultz had never discussed his feelings about Clark’s trip with anyone, publicly or privately. He said the Secretary viewed the Evans and Novak column today with “sorrow” rather than anger because he saw it as another example of a “factually incorrect and gossipy column” which helps to “sow the seeds” of “discord” within the Administration.

CITES ‘TOTAL COORDINATION’ ON MIDEAST POLICY

The State Department spokesman noted that McFarlane “worked closely” with the State Department and was in daily telephone contact with Department officials. Shultz and President Reagan are in “total coordination” on the Middle East policy, Hughes stressed.

He noted that the U.S. has pointed out that Syria has “interests” in Lebanon but it was being “unhelpful” in the current situation there. He also pointed to Reagan’s radio address last Saturday which strongly attacked Syria for receiving large arms supplies from the Soviet Union and for refusing to withdraw from Lebanon after it had promised to do so once Israel agreed to leave.

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