WASHINGTON (May. 19)
The Reagan Administration said Monday that statements over the weekend by the leaders of Israel and Syria have helped ease the tension between the two countries.
Israeli Premier Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin made their statements in U.S. television interviews Sunday, the same day an interview with Syrian President Hafez Assad was published in The Washington Post. “We welcome their effect on reducing tension in the region,” State Department Spokesman Bernard Kalb said Monday.
Assad said that neither Syria nor Israel had undertaken any unusual troop movements recently and asserted that the tensions between the two countries had lessened. “I do not see an immediate danger of war between us and Syria,” Peres said on ABC-TV’s “This Week With David Brinkley.” “We do not intend either to retaliate nor to make war.”
Appearing on CBS-TV’s “Face The Nation,” Rabin said, “Syria knows that its force is not a military match to Israel if Syria will go it alone.” He said Syria instead tries from Lebanon and Europe “to encourage, to participate in terror acts to the extent that they raise the level of risks of confrontation with Israel.”
PERES SMILES AT ASSAD’S STATEMENT
Assad maintained that he does not allow Syria to be used as a staging ground for terrorist acts abroad. But he said he would not restrict what he called the “cultural and political” activities in Syria of the Abu Nidal group.
Peres said he read Assad’s comments “with a smile,” noting the “murderous and violent actions” Abu Nidal has been responsible for. He said Syria shelters not only Abu Nidal but also other Palestinian terrorist leaders such as Nayef Hawatmeh, George Habash and Abu Moussa.
“The fact that Assad for the first time found it necessary for him to explain his position to the American public opinion, shows that he understands that there is a price to violence, not just an advantage,” Peres said.
At the White House Monday, spokesman Larry Speakes said, “As long as terrorists move freely in Syria or in Syrian-controlled territory in Lebanon our serious concern remains for Syrian support of international terrorism.” He urged Syria to “rid itself” of the Abu Nidal group in particular.
However, both Kalb and Speakes noted that the U.S. has asked Syrian help to free the Americans being held hostage in Lebanon. “The Syrians are well placed to influence those who are holding” the Americans, Kalb stressed.