WASHINGTON (Dec. 21)
President Reagan continued last night the effort of his Administration to convince Arab states that the agreement for strategic cooperation reached during Israeli Premier Yitzhak Shamir’s visit here was not anything new.
“There was no signed agreement or anything else,” Reagan said, in response to questions at a nationally televised press conference. “We were really reaffirming the relationship we have had since 1948.”
A senior State Department official made the same point in briefing foreign correspondents yesterday. But he noted that the joint United States-Israeli military and political group, which will have its first meeting in mid-January, will make the relationship “more structured” and “more formalized.”
Reagan said last night that he “emphasized” to Shamir that the United States also wants to move forward with its relations with the “moderate Arab states” so that the United States can be a “catalyst” in trying to bring peace to the Middle East.
He said that “if we’re to have any chance of bringing them together, continuing the process that started at Camp David where Egypt and Israel wound up with a peace treaty … we’ve got to befriend all of those countries and they’ve got to be able to trust us that we can be fair to all of them.”
SAYS MODERATE ARABS READY TO NEGOTIATE WITH ISRAEL
The President indicated he believed that moderate Arab states are ready to negotiate with Israel. He noted there had been “refusal on their part to even acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as a nation. So therefore, there could be no negotiations.” But Reagan added that the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “broke out of that mold” and that resulted in peace between Israel and Egypt.
“Our goal was to see if we couldn’t find more leaders and more governments that would become ‘Egypts’ in a sense, in settling their disputes and having peace,” Reagan stressed. “And today, the very fact that there’s an indication that they are willing and prepared to negotiate differences indicates that they no longer are holding that position or refusing to let Israel exist.”
At the same time, the President stressed that “the Middle East is a tinderbox; it is the one place that could start a war that no one wanted because of its importance, particularly to the free world and to our allies. And we can’t just turn away and say if we don’t look, it’ll go away.”
Reagan’s remarks were one of the reasons he gave in expressing his determination to keep the marines in Lebanon until the United States had achieved its objective. “The marines will come home as quickly as we can possibly bring them home” after “accomplishing our mission,” the President said.
He added that the decision will not have anything to do with the 1984 Presidential election campaign. “I will tell you this,” Reagan declared, “no decision regarding the lives and the safety of our servicemen will ever be made by me for a political reason.”
Reagan, who was repeatedly questioned about the marines last night, said that his statement last week that they might be pulled out if there was a total collapse in Lebanon was a “hypothetical answer” to a “hypothetical question.”
He said that what he was trying to say was that the only reason for pulling out the marines and the other members of the multi-national force, other than accomplishing its mission, would be if there was a “complete change of course” in Lebanon from the one which brought the MNF into Lebanon.
But the President stressed that “progress has been made.” He outlined the mission of the marines last night as going behind the Lebanese army as it takes over the territory evacuated by the foreign forces in order to “try to achieve some stability and maintain order, because Lebanon doesn’t have the forces to do both.”
SEEKING A POLITICAL SOLUTION IN LEBANON
Reagan said the United States is seeking a political solution in Lebanon and believes it can avoid a war with Syria. But he added “I will not OK a mission or ask or order our armed forces to go some-place where there is danger and tell them they have not the right to defend themselves.”
He said that the firings by U.S. ships and planes on the forces that have sniped at the marines have resulted “rather than stepped-up activity that there has been some pause for thought on those that were deciding that the multinational forces were fair game.”
At the same time, Reagan said he believed there would continue to be terrorist attacks against the marines. “But are we — and where would we be in the world — are we to let the terrorists win?” Reagan said. “Are we to say that, well, if terrorists are going to be active, we’ll give in to them, we’ll back away?”