Israel and Lebanon have agreed to direct talks, with U.S. participation, on withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon and the future security status of sensitive areas adjacent to Israel's northern border, a senior administration official said yesterday.
The official, traveling aboard the plane returning Secretary of State George P. Shultz from talks with Canadian officials in Ottawa, said he expects the talks to get under way before the end of this week.
Agreement to direct talks represents one of the first substantive signs that the administration's drive to get foreign forces out of Lebanon is being revived after talks here with most of the principals. During those talks, Israel reportedly made clear that it will require an agreement on securing southern Lebanon before Israeli troops are withdrawn.
Direct U.S. participation in the talks appears in part to be an effort to shield Lebanon from criticism by other Arab states and also a signal of a possible future role for the United States in the troop withdrawal process.
"It is true that many things to be discussed might involve us, so it is a good idea that we be there," the official said.
The administration views agreement on withdrawal of foreign troops from Lebanon as essential to making substantial progress on President Reagan's Middle East peace plan, and has set the end of the year as a goal for getting them out.
"If we are going to do something by the end of the year, we have to have a plan promptly. It takes time to implement, to move troops," the official said.
As one step toward that goal, the official endorsed Lebanese President Amin Gemayel's call for an immediate partial withdrawal of Syrian and Israeli troops and said it might be necessary as part of a pullback to deploy elements of the U.S.-French-Italian multinational force, perhaps along the Beirut-Damascus highway east of Beirut.
The official said, however, that there are no discussions about deploying the multinational force in areas of southern Lebanon.
One of the key actors in withdrawal negotiations, special envoy Morris Draper, appears to have been taken out of the picture temporarily, however. The official said Draper suffered a kidney stone attack in London as he was returning to Beirut and has been forced to remain in London.
The official said administration diplomacy would continue but was uncertain who would be the chief negotiator in the region. He did not rule out Draper's return.
In addition to the direct talks with Israel and Lebanon, Draper was to have moved between Damascus and Beirut in an effort to work out a Syrian and Palestinian withdrawal from Lebanon, the official said.
Earlier, in Ottawa, Shultz endorsed the notion that Arab leaders have "made a lot of movement" toward bridging differences with Israel and said the focus of efforts in the region "is to figure out how to make an arrangement that is peaceful."
Shultz's comments to Canadian journalists cast recent talks with Arab leaders in a positive context. That continued a theme struck by administration officials after an Arab League delegation led by Morocco's King Hassan conferred with Reagan at the White House Friday to explore various Mideast peace proposals.
"In the eyes of the Arabs, they have moved dramatically. They've come together . . . . King Hassan spoke of coexistence, U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, the president's initiative and the Fez Arab League initiative as being the basis for peace," Shultz said in reference to Hassan's remarks at a news conference here Saturday.
"So I don't know what other implication you could draw than that the Arabs accept the fact that Israel is there and is a permanent part of the region. Now the effort is to figure out how to make an arrangement that is peaceful with Israel. As they the Arabs see it, they've made a lot of movement, and they have," Shultz said.
Shultz's remarks appeared to go beyond Hassan's statement Saturday that the Arab states would recognize Israel only after it had withdrawn to its pre-1967 boundaries.
Shultz, whose one-day trip to Canada was designed to improve strained U.S.-Canadian relations, told Canadian journalists that a central goal of current U.S. efforts toward a regional peace is seeking emergence of another Arab leader, a reference to Jordan's King Hussein, to join Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in negotiations.
Shultz said the Arab leaders told U.S. officials that a central problem for them is finding someone who can speak for the Palestinians and could make concessions in talks with Israel.
Referring to Hussein, Shultz said: "How you construct a Palestinian association is something he is struggling with." A central element of Reagan's Mideast initiative calls for eventually giving much of the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip independence "in association with Jordan."
Shultz said a federated Jordan including the West Bank and Gaza would be economically possible and be less a threat to Israel. He also said "it is important that there be something that Palestinians can identify with."