WASHINGTON (Oct. 18)
Robert McFarlane’s appointment yesterday to replace William Clark as Assistant to President Reagan for National Security Affairs came as the Administration was beginning a high level review of the United States’ policy in the Middle East.
After Reagan announced the appointment at the White House, McFarlane, who has been special Middle East envoy since July 22, told reporters he believes in continuity in U.S. Mideast policy. But he noted that he saw his job as “not to be an advocate, but to be a coordinator.”
At the same time, he gave some clues as to where that policy is going when he was asked whether the Administration was concerned about the Palestinian people. He replied that that concern was reflected in Reagan’s September I, 1982 Mideast peace initiative. “The history of the Palestinian community like that of the Lebanese is a very sad history,” McFarlane said. He said there were a “number of ideas in progress” for improving the conditions of the Palestinians in Lebanon and on the West Bank. While not going into details, he said the Palestinians are in a state of “flux” and the U.S. “has opportunities it has not had until now.” Repeating that Palestinian history was “sad,” he declared; “It’s time to stop reading about it and try to make a little of it.”
At the same time, McFarlane, who has been Deputy Assistant for National Security Affairs under Clark, stressed that he believes in a “strong” U.S. Israeli relationship. “I have always felt that way and I shall remain to think that way.” He also noted that the U.S. was “concerned” about Israel’s economic difficulties and would welcome exchanges with Israel about means of helping to alleviate it.
McFarlane also stressed that a “strong relationship is vital to the security of American interests in the Middle East.” But he maintained that reports that during his negotiations in Lebanon saying he tilted to one side or the other were completely untrue. There has been “no tilt to anybody,” he said.
McFarlane revealed the U.S. method of trying to bring Syria into support of the present efforts to reach a national reconciliation among the various religious groups in Lebanon and the eventual withdrawal of all foreign forces from that country. He said the U.S. sought to “intensify and make more frequent our talks” with the Syrians. “We’re looking for common ground that can lead to Syria’s interests being accomodated without prejudicing the well-being of Lebanon,” he said.
DETERMINED TO KEEP MARINES IN LEBANON
Both Reagan and McFarlane made clear the Administration’s determination to keep the U.S. marines in Lebanon despite the casualties they have suffered. Reagan said the marines are there because it is “vitally important for the security of the United States and the Western world that we do everything we can to further the peace process in the Middle East.”
While saying the “loss of life in unacceptable,” McFarlane said that since the U.S. forces entered Lebanon there have been “some” who have by “threatening, killing” hope to “cause us to pull out. Their expectations are wrong.” He did not identify who the “some” are.
He expressed high hopes that the meeting that starts Thursday in Lebanon will bring progress toward national reconciliation because he said the various groups realize that they must compromise since the “alternatives to reconciliation are worse.”
Reagan left open who will succeed McFarlane as special Mideast negotiator. He said it will be one of his “hardest tasks” since McFarlane did such an “excellent” job. McFarlane seemed to indicate support for his deputy in the Middle East, Richard Fairbanks, who is still in Beirut. He noted that Fairbanks has conducted as many meetings as has he himself, but he said the decision was up to the President.
A MAJOR QUESTION RAISED
A major question raised by the McFarlane appointment is whether it will lead to a renewal of the public squabbles over the Middle East, as well as other issues, between Secretary of State George Shultz and Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger or whether McFarlane will be able to control this in his job as “coordinator” of policy. Shultz reportedly had supported McFarlane’s appointment, as did Clark, while it had been opposed by Weinberger and Central Intelligence Director William Casey.
McFarlane admitted yesterday that Clark was “as close as any man” to the president. The 45-year-old McFarlane, a retired marine Lt. Col. is basically a staff man who received his first experience in negotiations when he replaced Philip Habib in Lebanon three months ago.
He served in the National Security Council in the Nixon and Ford Administrations and was a staff member of the Senate Armed Services Committee during the Carter Administration.
In the Reagan Administration he was first the State Department counselor under Alexander Haig but when Clark left his post as deputy assistant Secretary of State to go to the White House as National Security Advisor, he took McFarlane with him as his deputy. There, with Clark unfamiliar with military and foreign affairs, McFarlane was credited with the day-to-day administration of affairs.
Both Reagan and McFarlane stressed yesterday that he would have access to the President. But whether this will lead to the continuation of the U.S.-Israeli cooperation that has existed since the May 17 Israeli-Lebanese agreement or whether confrontation will once again be in the forefront, remains to be seen.