Prospects for postponing the planned redeployment of Israeli troops in Lebanon are to be discussed in high-level talks today with the visiting Israeli ministers of defense and foreign affairs, administration officials indicated yesterday.
Postponement will be a key item on an agenda covering all aspects of the situation in Lebanon, but the United States will not insist that Israel change its timetable for a partial pullback, according to the officials and informed diplomatic sources.
Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Defense Minister Moshe Arens, who arrive here this morning, are to meet with Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Robert C. McFarlane, President Reagan's newly appointed Middle East envoy, and Nicholas A. Veliotes, the assistant undersecretary of state for Near Eastern affairs.
The Israeli government already has made clear that it will resist any U.S. pressure to delay pulling back its forces in Lebanon, and the administration appears anxious to avoid an argument on the issue.
Officials here pointed out that there was no great urgency because even if the Israeli pullback were to begin at once it would still take a considerable period--up to several months--before the process would be completed. The Israelis want to be in their new positions by October or November, before the Lebanese winter sets in.
The ministers' visit, however, coincides with increasing concern about the deteriorating security situation in Lebanon. Lebanese President Amin Gemayel, on his visit to Washington last week, expressed fears that a partial Israeli withdrawal could lead to a de facto partition of his country unless it takes place within the context of the removal of Syrian and Palestine Liberation Organization forces.
Israel is planning to withdraw from the Beirut area, the Beirut-Damascus highway, and the Shouf mountains. The Syrians and the PLO have refused to budge.
The State Department yesterday indirectly criticized the formation of a new pro-Syrian opposition front in Lebanon and said that all parties in that country should recognize that reconciliation requires a strong central government.
Department spokesman Alan Romberg said: "We also emphasize again our hope that senseless violence in Lebanon will end in the interest of furthering the worthy goal of a united, independent and sovereign Lebanon, free of all foreign forces. Continued strife and bloodshed serve no one's interests."