WASHINGTON (Jan. 29)
Secretary of State George Shultz and Richard Murphy, the Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, last week met with Congressional members in an effort to seek continued support for United States involvement in Lebanon amid growing criticism on Capitol Hill of Administration policy in Lebanon.
Shultz briefed a closed session of the House of Representatives last Thursday. Earlier, Murphy appeared before the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East and reiterated the Administration’s view that “the events in (Lebanon) are inextricably related to broader American interests in the Middle East.”
He noted as one of the “positive factors” in the Middle East situation is “our close relations with Israel and our ironclad commitment to its security and well being, as is Israel’s support for strengthening the government of Lebanon. Israel’s confidence in our commitment to its security is essential to progress toward peace.”
In a prepared statement to the House subcommittee last Thursday, Murphy focused primarily on the Lebanese situation but in addition, called on Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat to seek a negotiated settlement to the Palestinian problem. “We hope that Arafat will now understand that the only way to tangible gains for Palestinians is through direct negotiations between Jordan and Israel and that violent struggle is doomed as a way to achieve Palestinian goals,” Murphy said.
The State Department official said continued turmoil in Lebanon “heightens the danger of further warfare” between Israel and Syria. “Because of the major Soviet presence in Syria, such hostilities could lead to wider international conflict as well. He accused “outside forces” of having “exacerbated” Lebanon’s internal strife.
“Indeed, Lebanon has become a stage for the larger struggle in the Middle East between those who want peace through accommodation and those who practice confrontation, violence and terrorism,” Murphy stated. “Almost all the major players in the region are involved in Lebanon, demonstrating that the struggle there has wider ramifications. If extremist forces prevail in Lebanon, the prospects for peace elsewhere in the region will suffer greatly.”
A TEST OF U.S. LEADERSHIP
Murphy contended that continued U.S. involvement in the multi-national force in Lebanon is viewed by both “friends and adversaries” as “a test of our ability to exercise leadership towards a wider peace in the Middle East.” He indicated U.S. support for the May 17 Israel-Lebanon security and troop withdrawal agreement, saying, “if Lebanon is penalized” for this agreement, it “would have ominous implications for peace elsewhere in the region.”
But Murphy said the Syrian government of President Hafez Assad “remains an obstacle.” He said Syria has refused to discuss the withdrawal of its occupation forces from Lebanon until the Lebanese government repudiates the May 17 accord with Israel. “Syria’s acquiescence in terrorism against U.S. and other targets in Lebanon … also casts doubts on its intentions,” he said.
“We also have put Syria on notice that we are serious about a solution that both protects our mutual interests in Lebanon and Lebanon’s sovereignty so that Lebanon can again play its unique role in the region,” Murphy declared. He urged Congress not to curtail the original 18-month mandate for the marines to stay in Lebanon, saying the Administration “believes such actions would be a serious blow to our interests and diplomacy in Lebanon in the Middle East.”