WASHINGTON (May. 19)
The Reagan Administration is looking to the Arab countries to persuade Syria to pull its troops out of Lebanon in the wake of the Israeli-Lebanese agreement for Israeli troops withdrawal.
Special envoy Philip Habib, who was told by the Syrians yesterday that he would not be welcomed in Damascus, was in Saudi Arabia today apparently to begin this effort, after a brief stop-over in Cairo where he held talks with President Hosni Mubarak.
President Reagan indicated that the U.S. was taking this course at his news conference Tuesday night when he was asked what reasons he had to be “optimistic” that the Syrians would withdraw. “The Syrians have repeatedly said that when other forces leave, when the Israelis leave and so forth, they, too, will leave Lebanon,” Reagan replied.
“Now I grant you they’re saying some different things today,” the President continued. “But I also know that a number of their Arab allies are urging them to stick with their word and to leave when all forces are prepared to leave. And I can’t believe that the Syrians want to find themselves alone, separated from their Arab allies.”
SYRIA TO THE U.S.: BUTT OUT
The next day, in an apparent reply to Reagan, the official Syrian news agency, SANA, said “It has been decided not to receive Habib in Syria because we have nothing to discuss with him and because he is one of the most hostile American diplomats toward the Arabs and their cause.”
Damascus Radio replied directly to Reagan declaring that Syria rejects the Israeli-Lebanese agreement which it charged was “dictated on Lebanon by the United States and Israel and this rejection will continue until the accord is dropped.” The government-controlled radio station said Reagan spoke of Syria “as though he possesses the right of decision making in Syria or can dictate its will on it.” But it stressed that “neither Reagan’s statement nor Israel’s threat can alter Syria’s decision.”
U.S. officials have pointed out that while the Israeli-Lebanese agreement stands on its own, Israel will not begin its withdrawal from Lebanon until there is also an agreement for the departure of Syrian troops and PLO terrorists.
State Department-spokesman John Hughes, noting yesterday that “dialogue is the best way to advance the cause of peace,” said that the Syrian refusal to see Habib means that “the dialogue cannot go forward for the moment if nobody is talking.”
SENATE COMMENDS THE AGREEMENT
Meanwhile, the Senate, by a 100-0 vote yesterday adopted a resolution commending the Israeli-Lebanese agreement and urging “Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organization to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon by agreeing to prompt withdrawal of their forces from Lebanon. ” A spokesman for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, whose leadership drafted the resolution, noted it was rare for all members of the Senate to vote in favor of any resolution.
Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.), in introducing the resolution on the Senate floor, noted that Israeli Premier Menachem Begin has repeatedly stressed that Israel had no intention of occupying Lebanon. The “agreement proves that those who doubted Israel’s intentions were wrong and confirms for all that security remains Israel’s primary concern,” Percy said.
He said that many of the Arab countries have supported Lebanon’s signing the agreement. “These nations, including Iraq, Algeria, Jordan, Tunisia, Egypt and others, also recognize the need for Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces to withdraw,” Percy said. “Syrians and Palestinians will not succeed in advancing their own legitimate interests if they do not respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Lebanon.”
STATUS OF F-16 JET FIGHTERS
At his press conference Tuesday night, Reagan confirmed that the Administration is considering lifting the embargo to supply Israel with the promised 75 F-16 jet fighters. Reagan said in April that the planes would not be sent to Israel as long as it is in Lebanon.
“This is a matter now that must go to consultation between the State Department, they handle that, and the Congress, and that consultation is about to begin,” Reagan said Tuesday night of the F-16 decision. Earlier in the day, Nicholas Veliotes, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, said that the decision is being considered by the President.
Many observers believe that no official announcement would be made, which would be in the form of a letter to Congress notifying it of the proposed sale, as long as the present effort is going on to get Syria to agree to leave Lebanon. This is also true of the expected announcement of a visit by Begin to Washington soon.