Lebanese President Amin Gemayel said in an interview yesterday that the West should not compromise or offer rewards in its dealings with terrorists.
His comments were a veiled rebuke to France for its approach in securing the release last week of two hostages kidnaped by Iranian-linked Moslem extremists in Lebanon.
Gemayel urged all of the major powers to support his government so that it can help eliminate terrorism, which, he said, has flourished "like a disease as a result of the weakening of the state . . . Let them help me so I can help them.
"I don't think that compromises in dealing with terrorists or the evacuation of foreigners from Lebanon could solve the problem. Terrorism can follow them anywhere and to airports all over the world," Gemayel said in an interview. "When you offer a reward to a terrorist you are encouraging him to do the same thing all over again."
The remarks were an apparent criticism of France for bowing to Iranian pressure as a way out of its hostage crisis.
France took several steps to improve its ties with Iran before the hostages were freed, including the expulsion of an Iranian opposition figure and talks on unfreezing $1.5 billion in Iranian financial assets held in France.
Just back from a tour of Persian Gulf states, Gemayel appeared to have weathered a Syrian-sponsored campaign to unseat him, as well as calls for his resignation by his own prime minister.
Despite frustration at his present incapacity to govern or influence conditions, Gemayel made it plain that he had no intention of stepping down. He is betting that a general disenchantment with the chaos, brought on by militia groups challenging his authority, will tip the balance in his favor, he said.
Opposition leaders have tried to blame Gemayel for his country's economic woes, and have made an issue of military spending for U.S.-supplied equipment for the Lebanese Army. "Everything is an issue, even my hair is an issue," Gemayel sighed, a reference to national jokes about his shiny black mane.
"Of course I am responsible for the Lebanese people. But you cannot separate between the economic crisis and the political situation. The economic conditions are very bad now because of the cumulative effect of 12 years of war. The effect on a sick country is more devastating and more painful to endure," he said.
Gemayel predicted that his rivals will be compelled to come back to the negotiating table. "This socio-economic war will give people something to think about, and if dialogue does not resume, all militia leaders will be swept away," he said.
Gemayel said he has not spoken to or met with Shiite leader Nabih Berri or Druze chieftain Walid Jumblatt, both Cabinet members, for more than six months.
"I would have liked to collaborate with them with my best intentions," he said. "Unfortunately, they are under pressure, and they refuse to recognize the need to back Lebanon's legal authority. They are now paying the price, and I am paying the price with them."
Following a meeting of Moslem political and religious leaders in Damascus on June 13 under Syrian Vice President Abdel Halim Khaddam, Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karami called on Gemayel -- and his own government -- to resign.
Syrian wrath at Christian opposition led by Gemayel to an ill-fated peace accord last January has yet to die down.
After six months of stony silence by Damascus toward the Lebanese president, Sunni Moslem leaders in Lebanon such as Karami and Education Minister Selim Hoss have now revived proposals for ending Gemayel's term.
The president brushed aside scenarios for military coups or plans to storm west Beirut, as well as the importance of pressure against him to bow out.
"My task is to keep the country alive," he said. "It is very important not to push the country over the cliff.
Gemayel stressed his resolve to stay on despite the odds.
"Shall I resign because I said no to the Damascus agreement? . . . A president resigns when he takes a wrong option or loses the confidence of his people. I took the right option on the agreement," Gemayel said.
The accord would have given Syria control over political and military affairs in Lebanon, and reapportioned political power to provide greater opportunities for Lebanon's Moslem community, mainly its Shiite majority. The present system favors the Christian minority.
"The basic problem is not that my government is refusing to cooperate with me. The basic problem is that I have refused to sell the sovereignty of my country, its independence and democratic system," Gemayel said.
Basic government business and the signing of routine documents continues without Cabinet meetings. Gemayel conceded, however, that he has no control overall of Lebanon's Army or over parts of Lebanon where there are Syrian troops, Palestinians, Iranian Revolutionary Guards or Israeli soldiers.