WASHINGTON (Dec. 19)
The Reagan Administration again urged Israel today not to “impede” the Palestine Liberation Organization from leaving Tripoli in northern Lebanon.
But State Department spokesman John Hughes stressed, “The Israelis have stated that ‘we (Israel) have not said anywhere that we will attack’.” PLO chief Yasir Arafat and some 4,000 of his men if they leave Tripoli aboard Greek ships flying the United Nations flag.
“The U.S. hopes and expects that impediments such as recent Israeli actions to the expeditious evacuation of Arafat and his forces will not be removed,” Hughes said. He did not say what Israeli actions he was referring to but apparently he meant the shelling by Israeli gunboats of the Tripoli harbor.
But when it was suggested that this action was preventing the PLO from leaving, Hughes replied, “I am not sure Israel has prevented the PLO from leaving?” He would not discuss whether the Israeli action would be a departure from the recent agreements between Israel and the U.S. for cooperation in the Middle East. He noted however that in general, it is not unusual for “good friends and good allies” to have “differences of opinion.”
DEPARTURE OF PLO CITED AS A ‘GOOD THING’
The State Department spokesman re-stated the U.S. position that the departure of Arafat and his loyalists would be a “good thing,” not out of concern for the PLO but out of concern for the people of Tripoli and because the U.S. sees it as within the “framework” of its objectives in Lebanon.
“We noted last week our strong hope that the city and people of Tripoli would be spared from further bloodshed caused in part by the prospect of renewed fighting by PLO factions,” Hughes said. “We believe that the evacuation from Tripoli of PLO forces loyal to Arafat would address this concern and would be consistent with our objective of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.”
RUMSFELD VISITS BAGHDAD
Meanwhile, Hughes said that Donald Rumsfeld, Reagan’s special Mideast envoy, was in Baghdad today. He would not give any details of Rumsfeld’s visit to the Iraqi capital except to say that it was in connection with his duties as special envoy for the Middle East and for the situation in Lebanon.
Hughes said the U.S., as it has stated in the past, would be pleased to exchange ambassadors with Iraq if Iraq made such a request. Iraq broke diplomatic relations with the U.S. during the 1967 war and Rumsfeld is the first high U.S. official to visit that country since then. But Hughes stressed that the U.S. has “absolutely” no intention of changing its neutral position in the Iraqi-Iranian war.