Ford and Carter Agree That the U.S. Should Be Cautious in Its Involvement in Lebanon

Two former Presidents, once bitter political opponents, were in close agreement here that the United States should exercise caution in its involvement in Lebanon and should continue to press toward a broad, comprehensive Middle East peace despite the continuing crisis in the region.

Gerald Ford, Republican, and Jimmy Carter, the Democrat who defeated him in the 1976 Presidential elections, served as co-chairmen of a four-day conference on the Middle East which opened yesterday at Emory University. The conference, sponsored by the Carter Center of Emory University, drew government officials, diplomats and scholars from 10 nations, including the Soviet Union and Middle Eastern states.

Israel boycotted the event because the Palestine Liberation Organization was represented in the person of Harvard University Prof. Walid Khalidi. But several Israeli academics attended.

URGE U.S. AVOID MILITARY RETALIATION

Ford urged that the U.S. avoid military retaliation for the suicide bombing of U.S. marine headquarters in Beirut October 23 which took the lives of 230 American servicemen and wounded scores more. “We should keep our cool, we should not lash out in some reckless military action,” Ford said.

Carter agreed, warning that retaliation could be “counter-productive” to the talks being held by the warring factions in Lebanon aimed at national reconciliation. “To guess who is responsible or to base a military action on unsubstantiated allegations would be a very serious mistake,” Carter said. Ford said “It is time for thoughtful review of our policy and then strong action once we decide what our policy is.”

The two former Presidents spoke against the background of reports in recent days that the Reagan Administration is contemplating some sort of retribution against those responsible for the attack on the marines. The U.S. naval force has been beefed up in Lebanese waters. But Administration officials concede that they are still not certain which group was responsible for the attack.

SEARCH FOR COMPREHENSIVE PEACE MUST CONTINUE

The two former Presidents stressed at a news conference here last night that the U.S., the Arab nations and Israel must continue to search for a broad, comprehensive peace. “There is no way to minimize the consequences of the tragic and unnecessary war in Lebanon,” Carter said. “But this should not defer the attention of our government from the roots of the continuing conflict that really helped precipitate the Lebanese situation.”

Ford added that he did not think the search for a broad peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors can be allowed “to languish while we’re concentrating on the Lebanese problem. They have to be attacked simultaneously,” he said.

Carter said the conference was “unprecedented in scope and nature” and that he hoped it would provide a non-partisan forum for each country to educate the public and express its views on the Middle East conflict, free from political pressures. He described the Carter Center at Emory, founded last year, as a non-partisan think tank to address global issues.

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