Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin pledged to President Reagan last Monday that Israeli forces "would not go further" into the surrounded city of Beirut, the White House said yesterday.
The statement by deputy press secretary Larry Speakes came amid renewed calls from officials of Arab countries for a strong U.S. stand against an Israeli invasion of the Lebanese capital. The White House disclosure of Begin's promise appeared to be an effort to increase the pressure on Israel not to move into the Lebanese capital in its drive against Palestinian guerrillas.
Speakes, disclosing the Israeli pledge, said "we would expect" Israel to abide by the assurances given to Reagan.
Until yesterday the administration's posture was that Israel had provided assurances it had "no intention to occupy Beirut." That statement was repeated yesterday at the State Department. Spokesman Dean Fischer, speaking to reporters after the completion of the Israeli cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, said he had no information to suggest that Israel had backed away from this position.
The White House disclosure of Begin's pledge reflected a continuing and possibly even heightened level of official concern here about the Israeli military pressure on Beirut and the state of special U.S. envoy Philip C. Habib's efforts to achieve a negotiated withdrawal. The State Department, apparently in deference to Habib, refused to say yesterday what the U.S. position is about the Israeli military pressure on Beirut. In a statement aimed at the surrounded Palestine Liberation Organization, Fischer said "armed enclaves cannot exist in a sovereign state if stability and reconciliation are to be fostered."
Habib had been expected to go to Jerusalem yesterday with a new planfor a negotiated settlement involving the disarming of PLO guerrillas. Sources said he postponed this trip after failing to receive clear commitments on the plan in Lebanon.
The renewed Arab call for a strong U.S. position came in a message to Reagan from Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and in a Washington presentation by Lebanese Ambassador to the United States Khalil Itani.
Mubarak, according to an announcement in Cairo, called on Reagan to take "a firm and urgent stand to secure a withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon, beginning with lifting of the Israeli siege around Beirut."
The Lebanese appeal, in a statement read to Washington Post editors by Itani, called for withdrawal of "all foreign forces and armed elements" from Lebanon, beginning with Israeli forces.
"The Israelis are acting as some kind of a superpower trying to impose their will on Lebanon and the Arab states . . . attempting through military means to impose their political will," Itani charged. He said it would be "nothing short of a catastrophe" if Israeli military forces moved into Beirut.
"The United States could do more. It has all the power and the means," the ambassador said. "All the military strength of Israel is being provided by the United States. If the United States will tell them to stop, we believe the Israelis will stop."
Itani also charged that the Israeli invasion was "uncalled for" and "unprovoked." He said the U.S. government was well aware that following last July's cease-fire between Israel and the PLO, "there had not been one major incident, raid or attack launched against Israel's northern borders from Lebanese soil."
According to United Nations data, there was only one instance of shelling from Lebanon into Israel from the time the cease-fire was imposed last July to the Israeli heavy bombing of Beirut on June 5. That instance of shelling, on May 9, was in response to Israeli bombing and strafing of Palestinian camps in Lebanon.
The cease-fire also covered attacks against the Israeli-supported enclave of Major Saad Haddad in southern Lebanon and Palestinian infiltration from Lebanon across the Jordanian-Israeli border. There were some violations of those provisions, though at a relatively low level, during the cease-fire.
In his statement, the Lebanese ambassador said "outsiders" to his country sabotaged to a great extent earlier attempts at national reconstruction. He added that a drive toward control or removal of the outsiders, meaning Syria and the PLO, was under way before the Israeli invasion.
On Capitol Hill, the Senate completed congressional action on a bill providing $50 million in emergency relief and reconstruction aid to Lebanon.
In a brief debate, Sen. Charles H. Percy (R-Ill.), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, called the situation "a tragedy unprecedented in human history."
Percy added that U.S. weaponry, used by Israeli forces, "brought destruction and human misery" to Lebanon, and now the U.S. Congress is approving funds to help the victims of the weapons. "It defies imagination to try to explain this situation," he said.