senior Lebanese official charged today that Israel had stiffened its position on normalizing relations between the two countries in their first round of direct talks yesterday.
"Israel is hardening on normalizing relations, while Lebanon is insisting on the issue of withdrawals" of foreign troops from its territory as a first priority, the senior official told state-run Beirut radio.
[In Jerusalem, Israeli officials implied that the Lebanese delegation was more accommodating in the more than four hours of private talks yesterday than in its public statements, Washington Post correspondent Edward Walsh reported.]
A senior Israeli official who briefed foreign correspondents today said, "Lebanon obviously understands there will have to be some degree of normalization . . . . I am sure they are ready for some kind of normalization. They may not be ready to go as far as we would like."
[Walsh said the Israeli official told correspondents that in yesterday's private talks the Lebanese agreed on what topics would be discussed, including aspects of normal relations, but differed on the details and order of the proposed agenda for the negotiations, which are scheduled to resume Thursday at Qiryat Shemona in northern Israel.]
The Lebanese official quoted by Beirut radio said "no one had any doubts the negotiations would be difficult." It was known from the outset that Israel was adopting an uncompromising position to "attain specific goals," he added.
U.S. special envoy Morris Draper, head of the five-man American negotiating team for the talks, met today with Lebanese Foreign Minister Elie Salem and chief Lebanese negotiator Antoine Fattal to assess the first round of talks, held in the Beirut suburb of Khaldah. Draper told reporters after the meeting that he was expecting "progress" at Thursday's second session.
The senior Lebanese official told Beirut radio that there was "full U.S. understanding and support of the Lebanese position."
Lebanese officials have asserted that Lebanon was in no position to discuss political issues or make political concessions while Israeli soldiers were still in control of two-fifths of its territory and Palestinian and Syrian troops remained on another two-fifths.
According to the senior Lebanese official, there was a divergence of views among the Israeli delegates in yesterday's talks. "It became evident that one Israeli group showed understanding of the Lebanese situation, while another remained intransigent," he said.
The Lebanese Cabinet met tonight to define the guidelines for the Lebanese negotiating team at Qiryat Shemona and assigned three delegations to visit Arab capitals to explain Lebanon's posture at the talks.
The Lebanese side was reported here to have proposed a three-point agenda:
First, discussion of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanon. Second, adoption of security arrangements in south Lebanon. Third, discussion of future Lebanese-Israeli relations.
The Israeli side was reported to have demanded that priority be given to normalization, including an end to the state of war, open borders for commerce and a moratorium on hostile propaganda. The Israeli delegation reportedly also offered an agenda including the establishment of early warning stations in Lebanon, the right to conduct air and naval surveillance and an agreement limiting forces in south Lebanon.
Correspondent Walsh reported from Jerusalem:
The Israelis have staked a great deal on achieving agreement by the Lebanese for normal relations, including an open border and the free flow of trade and tourism, as one price of an Israeli troop withdrawal from the southern third of Lebanon.
Calling yesterday's first formal negotiating session between the countries since the 1949 armistice talks a "historic" occasion, Israeli officials portrayed the negotiations as part of a process that will inevitably lead to the acceptance of Israel by its Arab neighbors.
In an indication of the differences separating the two sides, Israeli officials described Lebanese willingness to discuss an end to the formal state of war between their countries, a much narrower definition of what would constitute "normal relations" than the Israelis are seeking.
They said much of yesterday's negotiations in Khaldah involved differences over exactly what is to be included under the topic the Israelis call "normalization."
The haggling over the agenda that dominated the first day of talks, according to one Israeli, came about because "We don't want any surprises, so that later if we raise the issue of open borders they cannot say it is not on the agenda."
The official who briefed foreign correspondents in Jerusalem also confirmed what was clear from the public ceremony that opened the negotiations: that while the Israeli delegation proposed discussing political relations first, the Lebanese wanted to start with the troop withdrawal question.
The official said he is confident this difference can be overcome by an agreement to discuss what Israel has described as the three main topics of the negotiations--political relations, "security arrangements" for Israel in southern Lebanon and a troop withdrawal--at the same time. In the past, Israeli officials have suggested that the negotiating teams, including the American delegation headed by Draper, might break into subcommittees to handle each issue separately but simultaneously.
Israeli officials said the U.S. delegation played an "active part" in the first day's talks and made some suggestions on the agenda that were accepted by the others.
The Israeli delegation, headed by Foreign Ministry Director-General David Kimche, met with Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Defense Minister Ariel Sharon and Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir today to discuss their next steps.