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Habib: No Snag in Talks on Withdrawal of Troops from Lebanon

December 10, 1982
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Philip Habib, ” President Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East, denied today that the talks on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon are stalled. But Habib, speaking to reporters after he and Morris Draper, the special envoy for the Lebanese talks, briefed President Reagan at a White House luncheon meeting, said the two of them would be returning to the Middle East next week to “accelerate” the negotiating process.

While conceding that negotiations of a “formal nature” had not yet begun between Israel and Lebanon, Habib stressed that a considerable amount of “chewing and throwing” was going on and some “form of dialogue” has been established.

“But there are lots of ways to skin a cat,” he said. “The negotiating process is alive. It is dealing with the relevant issues. It is consistent with the President’s statements and his policies. That is what we are going back to pursue.”

Habib and Draper, who had briefed senior Administration officials yesterday on Habib’s recent swing through the Middle East, briefed the President on both the progress on the Lebanese talks and the peace initiative Reagan annunciated September 1.

As they were having lunch, the White House announced it has named a third ambassador to the Middle East talks, Richard Fairbanks, who since earlier this year has been advisor to the Secretary of State on the Middle East with the personal rank of Ambassador.

A White House statement explained that the 41-year-old Fairbanks is being nominated to Ambassador to allow him “to become fully involved in the Middle East peace initiative.” White House deputy spokesman Larry Speakes explained that while Fairbanks had been dealing with the Middle East, the Presidential appointment shows the importance the Administration is placing on the peace process.

Speakes explained that Habib would continue to be responsible for the overall Middle East situation, including the Lebanese negotiations and the Reagan peace initiative; Draper would continue to concentrate on the autonomy talks.

In denying that negotiations are stalled, Habib stressed that no one believed that it would be an “exercise” of a couple of weeks in which an agreement would be reached for a withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian troops and Palestine Liberation Organization forces. He said there has to be a great deal of discussion. “You have to convince people and that is what we are in the process of doing,” he said. He added that he believed there has been “considerable success” in trying to narrow the issues.

On other matters, he said no decision would be made on Lebanon’s request for on increase of troops in the multinational force until an agreement on the removal of external forces had been reached. He said the attempt to provide Israel’s security from southern Lebanon was not a “major hurdle” that cannot be resolved.

Habib, signifying disgust, shrugged off a question from a reporter suggesting that Israel is making southern Lebanon its “Northern Bank.” He said, firmly: “I wouldn’t accept that characterization.”

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