Lebanon is seeking a partial pullback by foreign troops in its territory as an opening gesture of good faith in talks aimed at a total withdrawal, authoritative government sources said today.
The pullback would precede any agreement with Israel on a security zone in southern Lebanon to protect Israel against cross-border attacks, according to the sources, who asked to remain anonymous.
President Amin Gemayel, just back from a trip to the United States, France and Italy, announced that he plans to visit several Arab countries soon that he said were "directly concerned" with Lebanon's future. He did not identify them, but they were expected to include Syria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Gemayel briefed his Cabinet on the five-day tour that he completed yesterday, during which he repeatedly called for Israeli, Syrian and Palestinian troops to leave Lebanon.
A timetable for a partial, opening withdrawal is expected to be worked out through mediation by the United States and other, unidentified nations, Lebanese officials said. The next phase of talks here will begin this week with the arrival in Beirut of U.S. envoy Morris Draper.
It was unclear whether Gemayel had proposed the partial withdrawal of foreign forces in his talks in Washington.
"A pullback by both the Israelis and the Syrians would give the Lebanese government more authority and credibility in future discussions," an official said.
Two Beirut newspapers reported today that Lebanon wants an initial withdrawal completed by Nov. 22, the anniversary of its independence from France. The newspapers, An Nahar and L'Orient-Le Jour, said that the proposal provides for Israel to pull back by about nine miles while the Palestinians and possibly the Syrians would stage withdrawals in the eastern Bekaa Valley and in northern Lebanon.
Lebanon does not insist that Israel withdraw from the country before Syria, as some reports have suggested, government sources said.
"A mutual and simultaneous withdrawal may be the best, . . . saving face for everybody," an official said. He indicated, however, that the government views as particularly irritating the presence of Israeli troops on the outskirts of the capital.
"The presidential palace is under Israeli guns at Baabda," an eastern suburb of Beirut, he said.
Lebanon considers the key issue to be arranging the Israeli and Syrian pullbacks, because the Palestinians no longer are an independent force and would have to withdraw after losing the protection of the Syrians, Lebanese officials said.
Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat sent a letter to Gemayel saying that PLO guerrillas would not present a barrier to withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon, Beirut state radio reported. The letter suggested that the PLO would not allow Israel to use the presence of Palestinian guerrillas in Lebanon as an excuse for keeping Israeli troops there.
Gemayel's trip to the Arab states was expected to focus on finding reconstruction aid for Lebanon and future homes for the estimated 10,000 Palestinian guerrillas in eastern and northern Lebanon. In addition, Lebanon is using Arab states as mediators with PLO leaders now that they are dispersed to several Arab countries following their evacuation from Beirut, officials said.
"It is still too early to get the full facts on the situation in the Middle East and especially in Lebanon," Gemayel said in a message broadcast by the state radio. "We will get the full facts during a visit that we will make shortly to the Arab countries directly concerned with the Lebanese problem and with the issues linked to Lebanon's destiny."
One purpose of the trip, expected before the end of the year, will be to demonstrate that Lebanon remains part of the Arab world. Gemayel said that Lebanon would insist on maintaining its "independent Arab role within its regional context."
Lebanon is refusing to break with the Arab world, as Egypt did, and is resisting pressure from Israel to sign a peace treaty.
If not a peace treaty, Israel is demanding some type of formal arrangement to guarantee the future security of its northern border now that its invasion forces have cleared southern Lebanon of PLO guerrillas for the present.
Senior Lebanese officials have said that Lebanon accepts Israel's right to a safe border, and officials said that the government is considering several ways to ensure Israel's security.
Lebanese officials said no agreement on a deadline for withdrawal of foreign forces has been reached, although U.S. officials have said they are seeking a pullout by the end of the year. Draper reportedly plans to set up a joint Israeli-Lebanese committee to study security arrangements.
Gemayel sought commitments during his trip to expand the U.S.-French-Italian peace-keeping force from 3,800 to 30,000 soldiers. The expanded force would fan out into areas evacuated by Israeli, Syrian and Palestinian troops.