An emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers yesterday issued an eight-point program aimed at "solving the Lebanese crisis," but without setting forth any compromise to end the present conflict between Syrian troops and Christian militamen.
"Words, words, words," said a spokesman for rightwing Christian leader Camile Chamoun by telephone from his shell-damaged home in East Beirut. "The conference has not come out with anything new and the situation remains unchanged," a subsequent broadcast statement said. The 78-year-old former Lebanese president added that he saw nothing to "deter Syrian forces from a new attack" on militia strongholds.
But independent political observers and more moderate Christian militia leaders were holding out hope that the program's details - yet to be worked out - would permit an arrangement that each side could live with and defuse a confilct that neither side appears able to win.
On the surface, the outcome of the conference appeared to be a victory for Syria, endorsing its role in Lebanon through the 30,000-plus Syrian troops that make up most of the Arab Deterrent Force, Lebanon's post-civil war peacekeepers. But conference sources indicated that measures still being worked out could restrict the Syrians' capacity for unilateral action in Lebanon.
The meeting in a 150-year-old stone palace in this quiet hill village - untouched by the 1975-76 civil war or any of Lebanon's subsequent conflicts - came as Syrian soldiers and Christian militiamen traded machine gun and occasional shell fire in and around Beirut during the 10th day of a relative truce. The conference, opened Sunday by President Elias Sarkis, was attended by foreign ministers of special envoys of Lebanon and the six Arab states that man or fund the peacekeeping force - Syria, Saudi Arabia. The United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Kuwait and Qatar.
The conference's final eight-point communique basically reiterated previous Arab agreements stressing the restoration of "strong central authority" in Lebanon.
But three key points called for punishment for "those who deal with the Israeli enemy," a timetable for rebuilding the Lebanese Army and substituting it for the peace keeping-force and formation of a follow-up committee of Saudi, Kuwaiti and Syrian representatives under President Sarkis to carry out the program.
The first point refers to the rightist Christian militias and is aimed at assuaging Syria while under-scoring Lebanon's "Arab affiliation," Lebanese sources said.
But the next two provide for at least some of the controls President Sarkis requested, they added.
Delegates evaded questions on the controversial issue of the Syrians' withdrawal from strongholds in Christian territory, which they have used to shell surrounding neighborhoods in their clashes with militiamen.
Conference officials indicated there would be no such withdrawal as demanded by rightist leaders, notably Chamoun, but a "redeployment" evidently designed to post Lebanese or other peace keeping troops alongside the Syrians at key flashpoints.
While this ould still unacceptable to the uncompromising Chamoun, other Christian rightist leaders, including Phalange party chief Pierre Gemayel and Chamoun's son Dany, appeared to be taking a softer line.
In this connection, Lebanese political sources viewed the personal criticism leveled at the elder Chamoun by the French foreign minister Monday, and the U.S. State Department yesterday, as a Western effort to isolate him and facilitate a compromise between the Syrians and the more moderate Christian militia leaders.
In Washington yesterday, the State Department issued a blunt warning to Chamoun not to violate the cease-fire, which halted some of the fighting between Christian militias and Syrian troops 10 days ago.
[Department spokesman Thomas Reston expressed hope that all parties will strengthen the cease-fire and said that anyone who provokes renewed fighting will "incur heavy responsibility."]
[Reston said the statement applied to all parties to the conflict, but, for the first time, he singled out Chamoun by name.]
A furious Chamoun virulently denounced French Foreign Minister Louis De Guiringaud's tough statements, calling him a "liar" and a "coward." He denied that the militias started the latest clash that led to heavy Syrian shelling of Christian districts, and he repeated demands that Syrian and othe Arab forces withdraw from Lebanon in favor of United Nations peacekeepers.