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Eagleburger, Arabs Now Less Prone to Question U.S. Ability to Stay the Course in the Mideast

The questioning by Arab countries about the staying power of the United States after the pull-out from Lebanon may have lessened as a result of Syrian President Hafez Assad’s failure to bring about unity in Lebanon in the last three months, the former third-ranking official in the State Department said today.

“The events in Lebanon and the denouement of our own correct involvement in Lebanon has led to a certain degree of questioning of America’s ability to stay the course in the Middle East,” Lawrence Eagleburger, who recently retired as Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, told a meeting of the Board of Governors of B’nai B’rith International.

Eagleburger said that while this questioning of U.S. staying power was “less” in Israel, it existed among “moderate” Arab states. But now, “Mr. Assad and the Syrians are finding that their ability to determine events in Lebanon is not substantially greater than ours when it comes to trying to be constructive,” he added. “It is very easy in Lebanon to be destructive and the Syrians certainly perform that role with great aptitude.”

Eagleburger was presented with B’nai B’rith’s National Distinguished Government Service Award for his 27 years in the government at today’s meeting which marked the end of a three-day Board meeting attended by 115 persons from more than than a dozen countries. Philip Klutznick, a former B’nai B’rith president, presented Eagleburger with a replica of a 19th century Prague menorah.

U.S.-ISRAEL RELATIONSHIP ASSESSED

“The absolute essentiality of the closest possible relationship between the United States and the State of Israel” has never been questioned by the Reagan Administration, Eagleburger stressed. He said the reasons are that the U.S. must maintain friendship with a fellow democracy and that close relations with Israel are in the “selfish American” strategic interests.

“The United States’ ability to effect events in the Middle East is in a great measure dependent upon the quality of the relationship between the United States and Israel,” Eagleburger said.

He said the Middle East situation in the next year will depend on how Israel and the United States deal with it after the upcoming elections in both countries. He believes the elections will have an “impact” but offered no predictions.

Nor could he say whether King Hussein of Jordan could be brought into negotiations with Israel soon. “But despite his protestations to the contrary, there will come a time when he will recognize that there is no alternative to a negotiated settlement and that he will come to the bargaining table,” Eagleburger said.

He stressed that while Egypt must be watched, he believes the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty “for Egypt is just as important as it is for Israel.” He said that while President Hosni Mubarak is trying to bring Egypt back into the Arab world, there is a “limit beyond which they (Egyptians) will not go” and that is any attempt to threaten the peace treaty.

PESSIMISTIC ANALYSIS OF U.S.-SOVIET RELATIONS

Most of Eagleburger’s remarks were taken up with a pessimistic analysis of U.S.-Soviet relations. He said the “hard line” taken by the Kremlin has less to do with rhetoric from the United States than with the “instability” and uncertainty of the decision making process in the USSR following two rapid changes in Soviet leadership.

He said the Soviet army now has a greater role in decision making and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko is more in charge of foreign policy than ever before. He added that for U.S.-Soviet relations, Gromyko is “part of the problem not part of the solution.”

This means the “conditions of Soviet Jews will certainly not improve” during the coming year, Eagleburger said. “I find it difficult to imagine how it will get worse.”

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