The United States called on Israel yesterday to withdraw from southern Lebanon, and announced an "urgent" effort to create a United Nations force to keep peace in that area.
The State Department, announcing the U.S. view after two days of near silence on the Israeli military action, refused to say whether Israel's pull-out should be conditioned on creation of the peacekeeping force to take its place.
"We expect Israeli to withdraw and we have made our views in this respect known to the Israeli government," said State Department spokesman Hodding Carter. At another point he said, "Israeli withdrawal is essential." But despite a barrage of questions he would not say when or under what circumstances the withdrawal should take place.
At the same time, he announced that the United States has begun "consultations on arrangements which would promote security and stability in that area following Israeli withdrawal." He said the "urgent " U.S. effort was centered in the U.N. Security Council, which is expected to meet on the question in New York today.
Carter said the U.S. drive to arrange a comprehensive Arab-Israeli settlement will continue in the trip here next week of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Saying that such a settlement is "the only solution" to continuing violence and threats to Israel's security, the spokesman declared that "we do not intend to be distracted from efforts to resolve these basic problems."
In the battle area, Israeli warplanes bombed parts of southern Lebanon again yesterday but only three small pockets of Palestinian resistance were reported inside the six-mile-deep strip of Lebanese territory occupied by Israeli troops. Statements in Jerusalem Wednesday strongly indicated that Israel plans to maintain this "security belt" inside Lebanon until it can be guaranteed that Palestinian commandos will not return.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said in Beirut that his forces are continuing to fight. He also demanded an urgent meeting of the U.N Security Council.
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, in his first personal comment, condemned the Israeli attack as a "return to the policy of imposing conditions, occupying others' land by force and killing innocent civilians under the pretext of security." Sadat said he was summoning his key aides for a meeting of the national security council, which meets only in time of crisis, but there was no indication that Egypt plans military action.
The events leading to the U.S. declaration suggested great sensitivity over its domestic consequences, including the possible impact on the Panama Canal votes of pro-israeli senators. President Carter told reporters Wednesday night - after a day of extraordinary caution in administration comments about the Israeli attack - that he would have a statement on the subject yesterday.
It was announced around noon, however, that the State Department rather than the White House would reveal the U.S. position - and that it would be made public at 5:30 p.m. well after the crucial Senate vote on a Panama Canal treaty. State Department spokesman Carter would not say that the timing of the announcement was unrelated to the Panama vote.
It was unclear whether domestic or international politics - or a combination of both - accounted for the U.S. ambiguity about the timing of the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon. A flat demand for withdrawal would have angered Israel and its supporters, and might have lessened the incentive for other nations to agree to international arrangements to replace the Israeli troops. But a withdrawal plan clearly conditioned on guarantees for Israel would have angered Arab states and might seem to align the United States with a violation of territorial integrity.
"The territorial integrity of Lebanon remains a matter of fundamental concern to the United States," said the State Department declaration. It said that the long-range U.S. objective is the extension of Lebanese government authority - through an augmented and reorganized Lebanese national army - to southern Lebanon, where Palestinian commandos have had free rein.
The U.S. statement said any arrangements will have to be consistent with Lebanese authority and the decisions of the Lebanese government.
According to the State Department spokesman, the United States will support an expected demand from Lebanon for a meeting of the U.N. Security Council. In Beirut, Lebanese Foreign Minister Fuad Butrus was quoted by the state radio service as saying that no call for a U.N. meeting should be made until there are guarantees of "a resolution which would favor Labanon and which could be implemented, not like the previous resolutions passed by the Security Council."