U.S. envoy Morris Draper met President Amin Gemayel and other senior Lebanese officials today in the first round of talks on securing a withdrawal of Israeli, Syrian and Palestinian forces from the country.
Draper conferred in the morning with Gemayel and Prime Minister Shafiq Wazzan at the presidential palace in Baabda, an eastern suburb of Beirut, less than a mile from Israeli lines. In the afternoon he met Foreign Minister Elie Salem.
The two principal issues in the opening sessions were how Lebanon would enter direct talks with Israel on withdrawal and scenarios for an initial pullback of foreign troops.
Though a senior U.S. official said Monday that Lebanon had agreed to enter direct talks this week with Israel, with the United States participating as a third party, Draper's meetings today did not yet achieve that result.
"The Lebanese government still is considering exactly how it intends to structure these negotiations," a U.S. official said.
One possible reason for delay by the Lebanese was a vote of confidence expected Tuesday when Gemayel must win parliamentary approval for his three-week-old Cabinet. The government may wish to avoid allowing talks with Israel to become an issue before the vote.
Lebanese officials have said that the government is considering setting up the talks by adding diplomats to a military liaison committee used for routine contacts between the Israeli and Lebanese armies since last summer. Prime Minister Wazzan suggested after the session with Draper that the two countries eventually might revive a joint commission set up under the 1949 armistice agreement between Lebanon and Israel.
"This armistice accord is one of the tools that may be used at the appropriate time," Wazzan told reporters. Wazzan also reaffirmed Lebanon's public position of calling for an unconditional Israeli withdrawal, but observers here viewed this statement more as rhetoric than as a bedrock bargaining position.
Draper planned to fly to Israel early Friday for talks and return to Beirut. He then planned to travel to Syria and possibly Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, an unidentified gunman shot and wounded an Israeli soldier in Sidon, 22 miles south of the capital, Israeli military sources said. It was the second attack on Israeli troops there in three days. Israeli soldiers rounded up about 20 persons for questioning after the attack, but they later were released.
In another manhunt in southern Lebanon, U.N. officials said they did not know who shot and killed three Irish soldiers in the U.N. peace-keeping force near the Israeli border yesterday.