WASHINGTON (Mar. 16)
The Reagan Administration, after five days of intensive but separate talks with the Foreign Ministers of Israel and Lebanon, said today that, as predicted, there had been no breakthrough but there was progress made in the effort to gain the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon.
This assessment was given by an Administration official who said that when special envoys Philip Habib and Morris Draper return to the Middle East this weekend, they will “go back to a negotiating environment that is … positively altered” as a result of the talks here.
The official refused to give any details but conceded that “lots of ideas” were talked about by the Americans with the Lebanese and Israelis. This is essentially what Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said as he concluded 12 hours of talks over three days with Secretary of State George Shultz yesterday.
Just before departing Washington, Shamir said “some new ideas have emerged” which he was taking back to Jerusalem “with the conviction that we are nearer to a solution. I am convinced that there is a large identity of views and goals between the United States government and the Israeli government about the settlement of the problem of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon and the prevention of terrorist activities on the Lebanese territory against Israel.”
INDICATION OF ISRAELI CONCESSION
If Shamir is correct, his remarks may be an indication that Israel may be willing to give up its demand that it must maintain some type of military presence in Lebanon in order to ensure the security of northern Israel. Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saeb Salam, after. he and Foreign Minister Elie Salem met with President Reagan today, told reporters that “We can do. anything possible” to meet Israel’s security needs but cannot allow foreign troops to remain in Lebanon because that would “infringe on our sovereignty.”
Salam said he was “moved very deeply” when Reagan told him that he has “no reverse gears” when it came to meeting his commitment to work to ensure that all foreign troops leave Lebanon and that Lebanon regain its sovereignty over all its territory.
Salam who came here as a special representative of Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, brought Reagan a letter from the Lebanese President expressing gratification for what the U.S. has done for Lebanon and urging Reagan to continue these efforts.
The two Lebanese officials met with Reagan for a half hour and then had another half hour meeting with Vice President George Bush. Shamir, accompanied by the entire Israeli delegation, met with Reagan for a half hour on Monday. The Lebanese, who will probably leave tomorrow night, were scheduled to have another meeting with Habib and Draper this afternoon.
Salam stressed to reporters that when he talked about the withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon he did not mean only Israel, but the withdrawal of all foreign forces. The Administration official said that the Lebanese want the Syrians and the Palestine Liberation Organization to leave too, but believe they will not do so until an agreement for Israel’s withdrawal is reached. The official said he agrees with this assessment.
He said that PLO leader Yasir Arafat met Gemayel at the non-aligned conference in New Delhi last week and assured him the PLO would leave. He also noted that the Voice of Palestine, the PLO radio station, and a Syrian information minister, have recently expressed similar sentiments.
The Administration official noted that Salam and Salem also have discussed Reagan’s peace initiative with the President and noted that the Lebanese said there was a greater willingness in the Arab world to make. peace with Israel but they said that the success of the peace initiative may depend on whether there is success in Lebanon.
The official said that there is cynicism in the Arab world about Israel’s willingness to leave Lebanon. He said he did not share this feeling and noted that the same cynicism was expressed before Israel withdrew from Sinai.
LITTLE INDICATION ON NATURE OF ACCORD
Meanwhile, there was little indication on what kind of agreement will be worked out when negotiations continue in the Mideast next week. Israel has been insisting that the security of south Lebanon must be maintained by Israel in cooperation with Lebanon. Shamir repeatedly stressed here that Lebanon will not be able in the coming months to maintain security in south Lebanon on its own.
This was vigorously denied by the Lebanese Foreign Minister in his public statements here this week. The Administration official said today that he agreed with the Lebanese. He said that Lebanon wants northern Israel to be secure from attacks from southern Lebanon because if southern Lebanon is secure, so is Lebanon. He said what is not needed in south Lebanon are “panzer” troops but what the Lebanese army now has: motivated, trained, sufficiently armed small units who can interdict and patrol and who want to do it.”
PROPOSALS BY THE U.S.
The official reiterated the U.S. position that the expansion of the U.S. marines to southern Lebanon in conjunction with other troops of the multinational force (MNF) would only be decided upon after the shape of the security arrangement is worked out.
The reports of the proposals being made by the U.S. include giving the Lebanese army the responsibility for patrolling the areas near the Israeli border with Maj. Saad Haddad’s Christian militia being absorbed into the regular Lebanese army. The MNF would expand outside of the Beirut area to prevent infiltration, principally from Syria, into south Lebanon.
The U.S. official said today that the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) might be stationed near Palestinian refugee camps to give the residents there a feeling of security while the Lebanese army would have the actual responsibility for security.
In stressing that the Lebanese army could handle security in south Lebanon, the Administration official pointed out that whatever else can be said about Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, it has “eliminated” the major terrorist threat from south Lebanon. He maintained that the incidents that have been occurring are mainly due to terrorist infiltrating from behind the Syrian lines where he said there were all kinds of groups, including “1,000 Iranian crazies.” He said if all foreign troops were withdrawn, this problem would no longer exist.