WASHINGTON (Oct. 23)
President Reagan made clear today the United States’ determination to keep the marine force in Lebanon despite the terrorist attack on the marine headquarters in Beirut this morning in which 135 marines and sailors were killed and at least 50 more injured. A similar attack on a French army barrack is reported to have killed nine and wounded II. At least 53 are reported missing.
“We should all recognize that these deeds make so evident the bestial nature of those who would assume power if they could have their way and drive us out of the area, that we must be more determined than ever that they cannot take over that vital and strategic area of the earth or for that matter any other part of the earth,” Reagan said this morning upon returning to the White House for a National Security Council meeting.
Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger said the meeting was aimed at finding out who was responsible for the attack and for reducing the “Vulnerability” of the marines in Lebanon. In an interview from the White House on CBS-TV’s “Face the Nation,” Weinberger said that any decisions will be made in conjunction with the other members of the multinational force, noting that he had been in contact with the French Defense Minister Charles Hernu who had gone to Beirut.
Weinberger said there was only “circumstantial evidence” now because of the many “disparate ” groups in Lebanon who are aiming to prevent that country from achieving stability. He indicated that speculation focused on an Iranian group in Lebanon linked to the Ayatollah Khomeini which is also believed to have been responsible for the attack on the U.S. Embassy last April.
SYRIA BLAMED FOR OVERALL SITUATION
But Weinberger placed on Syria responsibility for the overall situation which led to today’s terrorist outrage. “The whole reason the marines are still there is because we have not been able to get the Syrians to agree to withdraw, we have not been able to get the Palestinian organizations to agree to withdraw,” Weinberger said. “The Israelis said they would withdraw if the others did and they have withdrawn part way.”
Weinberger also stressed that the marines and the other members of the MNF are in Lebanon in order to make the area “secure” to permit the withdrawal of the foreign forces. “That is one of the things we found most unfortunate that Syria has not agreed and apparently will not agree thus far to any kind of withdrawal,” he said. “And that is an absolute fundamental necessity before we can get peace in that region.”
The Defense Secretary also said he had not ruled out Soviet involvement, saying that the USSR was a “destabilizing” factor in the area. Reagan’s remarks also seemed to indicate Soviet involvement.
SYRIAN ENVOY DENIES SYRIAN COMPLICITY
On the same CBS program, Syrian Ambassador Rafic Jouejati denied any Syrian complicity and declared Syrian “grief” for today’s tragedy, saying “The marines are our brothers.” He blamed the incident on groups who wanted to prevent Lebanese national reconciliation, noting that a meeting for this was scheduled to begin in Geneva tomorrow.
Jouejati also maintained that Syria wanted to leave Lebanon but would not withdraw as long as “Israel imposes an agreement under duress on Lebanon.” But Sen. Joseph Biden (D. Del.), a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee who also appeared on the program, said Syria was the only foreign force refusing to leave Lebanon and said that was the “crux of the matter.”
Weinberger did not indicate what the next step would be but seemed to be ruling out increasing the size of the 1,600-member marine force. He implied the U.S. would beef up its naval power in the Mediterranean off the Lebanese coast.