The Reagan administration yesterday bluntly denounced the Israeli advance into West Beirut and charged the Begin government with breaking diplomatic assurances that it would not violate the Lebanese cease-fire negotiated by special U.S. ambassador Philip C. Habib.
"We fully support the Lebanese government's call for the withdrawal of Israeli forces, which are in clear violation of the cease-fire understanding to which Israel is party," said an administration statement read by spokesmen at the White House and the State Department. "There is no justification, in our view, for Israel's continued military presence in West Beirut and we call for an immediate pullback."
The statement's language reflected the view of administration officials that Israel had misled the United States about its intentions by declaring that its move into West Beirut was "limited and precautionary" in the wake of the killing of Lebanese president-elect Bashir Gemayel on Tuesday. From the U.S. point of view, it was reminiscent of assurances the Israelis gave of limited military objectives when they first invaded Lebanon last June.
But Israeli sources here denied that Prime Minister Menachem Begin had used specific language that would lead the United States to conclude that the present advance would be limited.
The Israeli sources blamed the misunderstanding on Morris Draper, the U.S. special envoy who replaced Habib in the Middle East, whom they said incorrectly gave Secretary of State George P. Shultz the impression that such promises had been made.
Despite the obvious irritation of the Reagan administration at the new Israeli action, sources at both the White House and the State Department made it clear that the United States will not retaliate with new sanctions against Israel, such as delaying the long-promised sale of 75 F16 jet fighter-bombers to Israel that President Reagan held up after the invasion of Lebanon.
These sources said that the United States will not threaten Israel with further sanctions no matter how much it disapproves of Israeli military actions. Such threats, they said, could unite Israel public opinion against Reagan's longer range Middle East peace initiative.
U.S. efforts to maintain peace in Lebanon and use this as a springboard for new negotiations on the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as advocated earlier this month by Reagan, already were on shaky ground after Gemayal's assassination.
Responding to the concerns of Egyptian Foreign Minister Kamal Hassan Ali about the new Israeli advances, State Department spokesman John Hughes said yesterday: "We understand the concerns. . . . Our own view is that the Israeli move into West Beirut is not helpful to the peace process.
Hughes also said that "as a practical matter, we do not foresee an imminent resumption of the Palestinian autonomy talks."
At the White House, spokesman Larry Speakes used the same language and said "we obviously don't agree" with Israeli contentions that their forces were in West Beirut to promote stability.
U.S. officials said the assurances of the temporary nature of the Israeli action were given Wednesday to Draper in Israel and in Washington to Shultz by Israeli Ambassador Moshe Arens. By Thursday morning it was apparent, however, that the Israeli advance was more extensive than the United States had been led to believe.
At 11:30 a.m. yesterday, Undersectary of State Lawrence Eagleburger called in Arens to object to the Israeli action. A knowledgable source, in characterizing this meeting, said: "I wouldn't call it friendly."
Within an hour the administration had issued its accusatory statement denouncing the Israeli move.
"It appears from press reports and eyewitness acounts that the Israelis have now moved into strategic positions throughout West Beirut and control much of that sector of the city," the statement said. "This is contrary to assurances given to us by the Israelis both in Washington and in Israel."
Expanding on the statement, Hughes said the initial suggestion from the Israeli government was that the advance was a limited movement to control check points between the Christian and Moslem sections of Beirut.
It is clear today that there are troops all around the city," Hughes said.