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Christopher Returning to U.S. to Discuss Lebanon Situation

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In an indication of American concern over the future of the Middle East peace talks, President Clinton summoned Secretary of State Warren Christopher back early from an Asian trip to discuss the current fighting in Lebanon.

Christopher had been planning to travel on from Asia to the Middle East later this week, stopping briefly in Egypt, Israel, Syria and Jordan, in an attempt to revive the stalled peace talks.

The State Department said Tuesday that Christopher would definitely travel to the Middle East very soon, but that the exact dates were still being determined.

The president said Tuesday that he had called Christopher back to Washington to discuss conditions in the Middle East before the secretary traveled to the region.

Clinton said he hoped the peace process would not be put in jeopardy by the current situation in southern Lebanon, where Israel has been shelling positions of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah.

He also praised Syria for showing “commendable restraint so far,” and said Hezbollah and other groups opposed to the peace process should not be allowed to detail the negotiations.

One concern is that the fighting could escalate and involve Syria, thereby increasing the likelihood that the peace negotiations will be adversely affected.

The White House has blamed the fighting on Iran and Hezbollah.

“Iran and Hezbollah are responsible. I think they clearly instigated this,” White House Press Secretary Dee Dee Myers told reporters Tuesday.

“Hezbollah has the backing of the Iranian government, and they are enemies of the peace process,” she said.

Also Tuesday, Assistant Secretary of State Edward Djerejian told the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East that “the violence in southern Lebanon is yet another reminder of the urgent need to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”

Djerejian, who heads the State Department’s Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, reiterated the administration’s commitment to achieving progress this calendar year in the bilateral talks Israel is holding separately with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians.

But he also repeated an administration warning that the parties themselves must work toward peace.

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