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Peres Mourns Death of U.S. Servicemen in Lebanon

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Shimon Peres, chairman of Israel’s opposition Labor Party, today mourned the loss of the 10 American servicemen killed or wounded in Lebanon last weekend but called on the U.S. to “maintain a strong posture” in the Middle East.

Addressing an audience of 150 at Harvard University, Peres said: “It is obvious that the U.S. can do without Lebanon but peace and freedom cannot prevail in the world without America. These young Americans died in that noble cause.” He noted that the U.S. “took it upon itself to establish a Gemayel government” in Lebanon and emphasized that “with the right diplomatic and military actions (this goal) can be achieved.”

Responding later to a question about Sen. Barry Goldwater’s remarks urging the immediate withdrawal of American troops from Lebanon, Peres said that “it is extremely difficult for an American Administration to break a promise. American reliability is very important.”

He said that Israel “has the stomach to defend itself” and added later that the U.S. did, too, plus “when other peoples’ freedom is in danger, the U.S. always helped and left, once the goal of the confrontation was achieved.”

FAVORS U.S.-ISRAEL MILITARY COORDINATION

Peres said he favored military coordination between the U.S. and Israel “as long as each of us can manage our own business without depending on the other. We are grateful to America for (its) economic and military aid, but we have to maintain the ability to defend ourselves,” he stressed.

“I am not a ‘peacenik,'” the Labor Party leader said. “God forbid if we didn’t have an army to defend ourselves. We must maintain our military position.” But, he added, “in war you must win; in peace you must be willing to compromise.”

He said “the best policy for Israel is to take two unilateral steps: realize the Israel-Lebanon agreement that provides for Israel’s security and set dates for (Israel’s) withdrawal (from Lebanon) independent of Syrian withdrawal.” Peres also urged “containment” of the Syrians. “I am not sure if this can be achieved through the negotiations with the U.S.,” he noted.

Syria will not “settle for less” than it already had and “if it gets more it will become a patron of Lebanon. That (option) would not offer peace within Lebanon or to her neighbors,” Peres said. The only solution is to “deter Syria from advancing further” in Lebanon.

The third goal in Lebanon, according to Peres, is the “establishment of an all-Lebanese government.” He said the options that face the war-torn country are “partition or a coalition that will represent all existing forces in the proportion they exist today. No Lebanese leader advocates partition,” Peres added.

Peres took care to differentiate between what he saw as two separate issues–the Lebanese and the Palestinian. To address the Palestinian problem, he called on “all parties to come together to try to negotiate” an interim agreement. He emphasized Jordan’s role in a Palestinian settlement based on the Reagan initiative and as a spokesman for the Palestinian people.

Peres said that experience has shown that the Palestine Liberation Organization and its leaders are not “viable negotiating partners.” Asked if PLO chief Yasir Arafat now seems like a “moderate,” Peres replied that Arafat “does not look like a moderate but like a failure. Sixteen years the leader, he brought tragedy to his people, death to our people,” Peres said.

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