The President. Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I asked Phil Habib to come by today in order to discuss the next phase of the U.S. diplomacy in Lebanon and the prospects for our Middle East initiative. I want to begin by reaffirming our principal objectives in Lebanon: first, the removal of all foreign military forces from Lebanon; second, the strengthening of the central government and the establishment of its authority throughout the country; third, Lebanon must not again become a launching pad for attacks into Israel. Indeed, the security of all the states in the area can only be guaranteed through freely negotiated peace treaties between Israel and its neighbors. And, finally, I call on all the parties in Lebanon to maintain the cease-fire so that diplomacy can succeed.
In the course of his briefing, Phil told me that a peaceful resolution of the Beirut crisis would not have been possible without a multinational force that included United States' forces. With the evacuation complete and the authorities asserting their control throughout Beirut, I am pleased to announce that the multinational force will commence its withdrawal from Beirut, Friday, September 10th, day after tomorrow. And the United States Marine contingent should be among the first to leave. We're therefore keeping our commitment to have them out within 30 days.
I'll remain fully and personally engaged in support of the next phase of our diplomacy in Lebanon. I also am announcing the formation of an interagency steering group on Lebanon. This group, under the chairmanship of the Deputy Secretary of State, will coordinate the political, economic, and security assistance dimensions of our policy. Peter McPherson, Director of AID, will assume responsibility for reconstruction efforts in addition to his role as my personal representative for relief in Lebanon. And Morris Draper, Phil's right hand in Lebanon, has been accorded the personal rank of Ambassador, and he will manage the political working group and shortly return to Lebanon to continue his work. And I want to express my appreciation to him for what he has done and what he is going to continue doing.
And once again, I want to extend my heartfelt congratulations to Phil Habib for his superhuman efforts throughout the past year and a half. Phil's successful diplomacy is one reason why we're now able to inject a fresh start into the peace process.
Phil would like to make some remarks, I know, and I know many of you would like to ask him questions. So I'm going to leave Phil and Morris to you, and I have a date back in the office that I must now keep and return to work. So, thank you for being here. And, Phil, again, thank you. God bless you.
Ambassador Habib. Thank you for everything, Mr. President.
Ambassador Draper. Thank you very much, Mr. President.
The President. Morris, thank you.
Q. Mr. President, before you go, can you just tell us what you think about Prime Minister Begin saying to the Knesset today that the West Bank would be a Jewish homeland forever?
The President. I think that I'll let these gentlemen handle the questions and take a question from that. My own personal reaction is that because I stressed negotiations as the settlement to many of these troublesome issues there, I think that we have to understand sometimes that maybe positions are being staked out with those negotiations in mind.
Q. But do you think Israel will change, sir? Do you think this initial reaction can be modified in the future?
The President. That's up to the negotiators.
[At this point, the President returned to the Oval Office.]
Q. He's gone now. Tell us everything. [Laughter]
Ambassador Habib. No, it's -- first of all, it's kind of nice to be able to talk to you fellows without having to just wave as I go by.
But I'm particularly gratified that the President is continuing his personal interest in the Lebanese situation. It's going to require continued high-level attention in our government as we pursue the objectives that the President has laid down for us. And in that regard he and Secretary Shultz have given Morris and myself our instructions. Morris has his marching orders. He'll be taking off very shortly. And then later in the month, I'll go out for the inauguration of the new President and spend a few days with him.
But basically, we're going to be trying to build upon the initial -- I wouldn't call them successes as much as I would call them the initial progress that's been made in the Lebanese situation. There is a fair, good chance that we can see a sovereign, integral, free, pluralistic Lebanon, once again sovereign within its own territories. And that's what we're basically going to be working for.
With that, we'll take any questions that we think we can answer.
Sources: Public Papers of the President