WASHINGTON (Jul. 26)
The Reagan Administration surprised a Congressional panel yesterday with the assertion that Syria is playing a “helpful” role to restore stability in Lebanon because it succeeded in forcing the abrogation of the May 17, 1983 agreement between Lebanon and Israel which the U.S. sponsored and helped negotiate.
Members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on the Middle East and Europe promptly challenged the testimony to that effect by Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs.
Their skepticism was aroused because the Administration, including President Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz, have repeatedly accused Syria during the past six months of obstruction in Lebanon and involvement in terrorist actions against the U.S.
Murphy, crediting Prime Minister Rashid Karami with success in restoring order in Lebanon, told the panel: “We believe that Syria has been one of the helpful players in these recent developments. We also believe that Lebanon needs peaceful, cooperative relations with both Syria and Israel. No lasting solution is possible which fails to take into account the interests of both these important neighbors.”
Rep. Ed Zschau (R. Calif.) asked Murphy how he could describe Syria as “helpful” after the Administration has been depicting it as a prime troublemaker in the region. Murphy conceded that Damascus had caused trouble but said that was because of the 1983 withdrawal and security agreement between Lebanon and Israel.
“Clearly the Syrians had their sights set on blowing up that agreement,” Murphy said, “and when that was blown they showed themselves ready to move in the direction of helping to restore stability in Lebanon.” President Amin Gemayel of Lebanon formally abrogated the agreement last March 17.
According to Murphy, the Syrians “have come to a policy decision that a stable Lebanon and a stable Beirut” are necessary for overall stability in the region.
When. Rep. Larry Smith (D. Fla.) said he was “distressed by the choice of the world ‘helpful’,” with respect to Syria, Murphy replied: “It’s a relative term. If someone throws you down a well a hundred feet and you’re not very happy and they they haul you up 50 feet and you can see the light at the top of the well, you feel a lot better and you call them helpful, but you never would have been down there in the first place if they hadn’t thrown you down there.”