The United States today vetoed a French resolution in the Security Council that would have commanded the withdrawal of Israeli forces to six miles from Beirut, and the simultaneous withdrawal of Palestinian guerrillas, still armed, to their bases in the southern part of the capital.
The vote came in the early morning hours after 16 hours of intensive negotiations, in which the United States sought unsuccessfully to include a call for the disarming of Palestinian forces.
The failure to reach a compromise resulted in an open confrontation between France and the United States in the council for the first time since the 1956 Suez crisis.
The resolution vetoed by U.S. representative Charles Lichenstein would also have called for Lebanese armed forces to interpose themselves between Israeli troops and the Palestine Liberation Organization in and around Beirut and for the stationing of U.N. military observers to supervise the disengagement there.
France successfully opposed the introduction of an alternative resolution sought by Britain that would have simply called for a cease-fire, a disengagement and the stationing of U.N. observers.
The United States yesterday had introduced its own resolution calling for U.N. observers--but specifying the disarming of the PLO and their withdrawal from Beirut.
Although both France and the United States were working to avoid a feared bloodbath in Lebanon, they had introduced separate resolutions that differed on the critical question of disarming Palestinian forces.
After a day of rapid developments elsewhere, including the resignation of Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. and a new cease-fire in Lebanon, the council planned to vote first on a French proposal that would require a disengagement of forces but allow Palestinian guerrillas to retain their arms while regrouping.
After a round of consultations that ended just before midnight, the United States agreed to stop pressing its own resolution and sought to amend the French draft include a call on "all armed elements to respect and submit to" the authority of the Lebanese government.
American officials interpreted that wording to mean the disarming of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The United States had reacted negatively to the French proposal when it was released in Paris yesterday, but high-level discussions in Washington today produced more agreement between Washington and Paris on eventual aims than had been expected, diplomatic sources reported. The French reportedly hoped that a resolution could be drafted that the United States would not veto.
The original French proposal received virtually no support, and to win a majority, the French agreed to redraft it. The new proposal includes demands from Third World nations that would specify that the PLO should be allowed to withdraw with its arms to refugee camps in southern Beirut, as they have requested.
The PLO supporters on the council also sought a reaffirmation of earlier resolutions that demanded unconditional Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon.
The U.S. draft resolution had required Palestinian forces to "turn over all weapons to Lebanese forces." That appeared to be the point U.S. diplomats were seeking to include in the French draft.
The U.S. draft, worked out in cooperation with Lebanese representative Ghassan Tueni, also had called for an immediate cease-fire, the deployment of Lebanese forces in Beirut, the disengagement of Israeli forces once the PLO has surrendered its weapons, and the redeployment of "all foreign forces in Beirut" outside the Beirut area.
The dropped U.S. draft, like the revised French resolution, called for U.N. observers to supervise the disengagement.
The fact that the Reagan administration had worked with Lebanon on a draft resolution and that the document did not echo Israel's demand that the PLO guerrillas be shipped out of Lebanon after they disarm and surrender suggested a new urgency in the American efforts, diplomatic sources in Washington reported.
An intense flurry of diplomatic activity in a number of capitals surrounded the efforts at the United Nations to find a way to rein in the Israeli assault on West Beirut. Conditions for a formula to extricate the trapped guerrillas went through a number of changes, with the United States and Israel basically asking for a surrender as a condition for sparing the PLO leadership.
The French resolution the United States vetoed was markedly different from the original French proposal, which demanded the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces around Beirut to a distance not yet specified, and "the simultaneous withdrawal of the Palestinian armed forces from West Beirut, which shall retire to positions to be determined."
In addition to U.N. observers, it asked the Lebanese government to install its own security forces in and around Beirut. It provided for the future establishment of a U.N. peace-keeping force.
It was this proposal, drafted personally by French President Francois Mitterrand, that brought the Lebanon issue before the council again yesterday in what was then seen as a major French break with the United States and Israel.
French Foreign Minister Claude Cheysson was quoted yesterday by Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, as saying the United States would probably veto the French resolution because the Reagan administration "is totally in the hands of the Israelis." Cheysson today issued a statement in Paris denying he had made the statement about Israeli influence.
While the council was consulting, the General Assembly also met to discuss the Lebanon crisis.
At this session, Egypt spoke out with what Israeli officials viewed as the strongest condemnation of Israeli actions since the signing of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty. Egyptian Ambassador Ahmed Abdel Meguid told the assembly that "the civilized world has not known such acts since the Nazi occupation of Europe."
He dismissed the Israeli theory that the acction against the PLO is "the route to peace," saying that on the contrary, "it is aggression against reality."
He warned that there is little time left before "an entire people is liquidated."
The PLO and its supporters have put forward a resolution that condemns the Israeli invasion, demands unconditional withdrawal by Sunday morning, and warns of sanctions should Israel refuse.