Reagan News Conferences & Interviews: Middle East/Israel
JANUARY 19, 1982
The Middle East
Q. Mr. President, now that Secretary Haig is back from the Mideast, do you know of any new, concrete grounds for optimism about reaching an agreement on the Palestinian autonomy issue? And do you regard as crucial reaching some sort of agreement before April, when the Israelis are scheduled to complete the withdrawal from the Sinai?
The President. Well, there's no question about that being the toughest problem in a Middle East settlement. We won't set a deadline of any kind on when that must be decided. The Secretary has been on a fact-finding trip and will be there again, although no date has been set for that.
We want to help if we can, if we can come up with some ideas that might be helpful in the autonomy talks. That is the next step under the Camp David process. And so, as I say, we won't set a deadline, but we're most hopeful that we can be of help and that they will at least by the Sinai time get down to, let's say, a kind of a plan for proceeding.
FEBRUARY 18, 1982
Q. Do you plan to offer for sale the Hawk missiles and the F-16 fighter planes to Jordan? And, if so, what additional offers will you make to Israel to counter this sale?
The President. Contrary to what was portrayed and widely heralded in these last few weeks, Secretary Weinberger came back without any request having been voiced for any of those weapons. So, there's no definite plan. If there's a request-comes, we'll treat with it.
But, again, I have reassured Prime Minister Begin, because of the overblown way in which the whole two tours of the Secretary and Secretary of State—they coordinated their activities. They were in communication with each other on those trips; there is no difference in policy between them. And I reassured Prime Minister Begin that there is no change in our approach toward Israel and our dedication to the welfare of Israel.
Q. To follow up
Q. I wanted to follow up, too, if I may. Isn't there any effective way that you have to counter this continuing buildup of arms in the Middle East?
The President. Yes, and that is to continue the policy we're following, which is to try and carry on where Camp David left off and bring about a peace in the Middle East. And then the only basis for armaments in all of them would be against the external threat that could be posed by someone such as the Soviet Union. So, this is what we're trying to do in our Middle East policy is to try to persuade, particularly the more moderate Arab states, to join in the peacemaking process with Israel and to accept Israel's right to be a nation.
MARCH 23, 1982
The Middle East
Could we turn to international—this is an international question; also, as you recognize, a New York question. How could you assure the Jews of the city, this city, who came out very strongly for you in the election, how could you assure the—that you haven't abandoned them and Israel? You know, many of the Jews in this city feel very hurt. And now maybe the lines are crossed, but that's the way we hear it.
The President. I think they are, and we've tried to meet with leaders of various groups and organizations in the Jewish community to explain—particularly last year over the AWACS deal—what it was that we were trying to do. And I can assure you—in fact, it will be in my remarks tonight—that we remain, without qualification, pledged to the security and the support of Israel.
Q. Then you do feel the lines have been somewhere crossed?
The President. Yes. Let me take the AWACS issue to begin with.
Here is Israel, virtually one of the smallest of the nations, outnumbered a hundred to one, basically by countries that—other than Egypt—have still—well, until Saudi Arabia softened its position—declaring that Israel does not have a right to exist as a nation. So, Israel retains a military capacity that is backbreaking for them.
The answer to Israel's security is longtime peace. The United States is dedicated-and was before I ever got here, as witness Camp David—to helping in this process. I think that one of the only ways we can bring this about is if we can persuade, particularly the more moderate Arab nations, to see this situation as Egypt did-and Egypt was the one that was at war-and to bring them into where we can sit down and they can recognize that we intend to be fair as an outsider in here trying to help.
So, what we have been—this is one of the reasons we have been trying to develop this relationship and let them know that we want peace for everybody there.
Q. Is the thought, Mr. President, that previous to that, that the American Government was so, to coin a phrase, "pathologically tied into Israel," that even the moderate Arab countries felt they were so threatened, not so much by Israel but by the so-called almighty American arm and got scared into something and doing something that they would not have normally done. And then by—what you're saying is by balancing it, we both have a right hand and a left hand.
The President. Well, no, I don't think they were. I think that you'll find among those same moderate nations that they have much more of a concern of the threat of the Soviet Union in the Middle East. And Egypt certainly did not. Sadat did not change because of any pressure from us. You know, he had inherited the alliance with the Soviet Union. And he finally had it up to here with them, and he kicked them out, and then made that great overture that led to where we are today.
But, no, I believe it is a case of—and Prime Minister Begin, when he visited Washington, I told him this and what we were going to do, and I told him that we were allies and that in my view it was a two-way street, that we derived benefit as well as they did from the relationship, and that we were completely dedicated to the preservation of the state of Israel. And this was the only, the supposed arm-twisting and everything that took place in the AWACS thing. This was all that I said-Q. Arm-twisting. [Laughter]
The President. but this was all that I said to the Senators. I told them that I believe that this was the most useful step in the pursuit of peace. And many of them-they were—and I must say, the Senators that I talked to were most sincere in their views, even those that—their concern was the security of Israel. And I got their votes when I was able to persuade them that it was equally my concern.
MARCH 31, 1982
Q. Mr. President, do you think the recent clashes between the Israeli military and Palestinians on the West Bank will destroy progress toward the Palestinian autonomy?
The President. I'm hopeful that it won't, because I have the pledge of my friend Menachem Begin and of President Mubarak that they are going forward—and within the framework of the Camp David agreement-to resolve all these other problems. I'm hopeful that we will see more progress on these talks after April 25th, when the transfer of the Sinai comes.
Israel claims that some of the mayors that they are ousting there are mayors that they themselves had appointed but that they believe have now become a part of the more radical PLO wing. But the Camp David agreement comes within the 242 and 338 of the United Nations, those Resolutions. And they have, as I say, have pledged to me that they're going to abide by that.
APRIL 14, 1982
Q. Mr. President, how concerned are you that Israel will find some pretext or put some pressure on Menachem Begin to renege on his pledge to return the Sinai to Egypt?
The President. All I can tell you is that I have his pledge that the turnover is going to occur and that they're going forward with the Camp David—in the framework of the Camp David talks. And we have Secretary Stoessel over there talking to them about various problems. And so I'm going to have confidence in that statement that he's made to me.
Q. When are you going to stop the bloodshed—
The President. What's that?
Q.—the Israeli occupation against the Arab shooting of children and women and
The President. Well, this is a tragic affair. Obviously, the individual who perpetrated that horrible deed at the temple is deranged, and now for this to lead to the great unrest, yes, it's a great tragedy.
MAY 13, 1982
The Middle East
Q. Mr. President, do you intend to reactivate the Memorandum of Understanding with Israel, and do you believe Egypt should agree to hold a meeting of the autonomy talks in Jerusalem?
The President. Well now, I'm not going to comment on that last part of the question there, because we want to stand by and be of help there, and this is one to be worked out between them. But I do have faith that both President Mubarak and Prime Minister Begin intend to pursue the talks in the framework of Camp David, the autonomy talks, and we stand by ready to help them.
In the thing that you mentioned that has temporarily been suspended, we regretted having to do that, and we look forward to when that will be implemented again.
MAY 14, 1982
The Middle East
Q. In light of our country's participation in and support of Camp David accords, how do you justify the projected sale of extremely advanced jet fighters to Jordan and the hand-held heat-seeking missiles?
The President. How do we justify selling weapons to Jordan, high-level fighters and so forth at the same time in our agreement with and our alliance with Israel. Well, first of all, there has been no request as yet-there's been a lot of talk that I've read about it also—there's been no formal request from Jordan. But, on the other hand, it is—whatever is done, I want you to know what our policy is and what we're trying to accomplish. And Prime Minister Begin knows this.
Menachem and I exchange letters all the time on these subjects. [Laughter] We think one of the—and, yes, we're on a first-name basis now. [Laughter] That's kind of a shock to the striped-pants fellows over in the State Department that we call each other by the first name, but we do. And he knows that I meant it when I pledged to him that we will never allow them to—their qualitative and quantitative military advantage to be done away with, but that what we're trying to do with the more moderate Arab States is persuade them to become additional Egypts, to do as Egypt did.
The greatest thing that we can do for Israel is to bring peace to the Middle East. And if we're to be a believable broker, we can't impose that peace, of course. But if we are to be believable, then those moderate Arab States—and I've met with King Hussein and must say that I was greatly impressed by his whole approach and his views toward the Middle East. If we can persuade them to acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as a nation and enter into negotiations in that Camp David framework as Egypt did, that will be the greatest thing we can do. And in order to do that we have to show them that we're willing to be a friend other than just talking about it.
But, as I say, the Prime Minister knows that we are pledged and, I believe, morally bound in a commitment to the preservation of the state of Israel, that it must continue to exist.
JUNE 1, 1982
The Middle East
Mr. Telmon. Mr. President, can you say something about the Middle East? In this moment we know that you are going to have a summit meeting with President Mubarak and Menachem, alias—
The President. Yes.
Mr. Telmon. Prime Minister Begin. At the same time, there is this new—a couple of new alinements in the Middle East. What is the position of the United States?
The President. Well, we have believed, there again, that the answer to the problem of Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflict must be the same type of thing that happened between Egypt and Israel, that other, more moderate Arab States, to begin with, must acknowledge the right of Israel to exist as a nation and then, bilaterally, make their peace with Israel. And we've been trying-we can't impose a peace structure on the countries of the Middle East—but we have been trying to establish ourselves as wanting to be fair and wanting a just and fair solution to the dispute between the Arab States and Israel and that, therefore, we could be depended on as long as we're wanted and our help is sought to try for a fair and just peace.
I recognize that there are some Arab States that are not moderate and that will represent a problem. But I believe that even most of those, if not all, would follow the lead if the more moderate Arab States should accept Israel's right to exist and be willing to do as Egypt did and seek a peace.
JUNE 30, 1982
Israeli Invasion of Lebanon
Q. Mr. President, there are some who say that by failing to condemn the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and refusing to cut off arms to the invading armies, the United States and Israeli policies have become-and goals have become identical. If there's a difference, what is it?
Also, is there a difference between the Soviet slaughter of Afghans, which the United States has condemned so often, and the killing of Lebanese and the displaced people of Palestine? If so, what's the difference?
The President. Helen, you've asked a question that—or several questions that I have to walk a very narrow line in answering.
There's no question but that we had hoped for a diplomatic settlement and believed there could have been a diplomatic settlement in the Middle East, in that situation. We were not warned or notified of the invasion that was going to take place. On the other hand, there had been a breaking of the cease-fire, which had held for about 11 months in that area.
I think there are differences between some of these things that are going on and things like just the outright invasion of Afghanistan by a foreign power determined to impose its will on another country. We have a situation in Lebanon in which there was a force, the PLO, literally a government within a government and with its own army. And they had pursued aggression themselves across a border by way of rocket firing and artillery barrages. But the situation is so complicated and the goals that we would like to pursue are what are dictating our conduct right now.
We want the bloodshed to end; there's no question about that. We didn't want it to start. But we've seen Lebanon for 7 years now divided into several factions, each faction with its own militia, not a government in control. We have seen, as I've said, this PLO, and we've seen the invasion of other forces, the presence of the Syrians, as well, in Lebanon.
Right now, our goals are—as for the first time in 7 years the Lebanese seem to be trying to get together, and their factions have come together seeking a way to have a central government and have control of their own country and to have a single Lebanese army. That is one of the goals we would like to see. The other goal would be the guaranteeing of the southern border with Israel, that there would be no longer a force in Lebanon that could, when it chose, create acts of terror across that border. And the third goal is to get all the foreign forces—Syrians, Israelis, and the armed PLO—out of Lebanon. And we're—
Q. A lot of people have been displaced in Palestine.
The President. Yes, and I signed a bill this morning for $50 million in aid for Lebanon there, where several hundred thousand of those Palestinians are. I don't think they were all displaced from one area, and they have been refugees now into ongoing generations.
I think—when I say PLO, one has to differentiate between the PLO and the Palestinians. And out of this, also, we have another goal—and it's been our goal for quite some time—and that is to, once and for all, when these other things are accomplished-once and for all, to deal with the problem of the Palestinians and settle that problem within the proposals and the suggestions that were made in the Camp David accords.
Q. Mr. President, what steps are you prepared to take if Israel resumes fighting in Lebanon, moves in on the PLO and West Beirut. And what is the United States prepared to do for the Palestinians, whose legal rights you apparently told President Mubarak of Egypt the U.S. supports?
The President. This is a question, again, where I have to beg your tolerance of me. With the delicacy of the negotiations that are going on in the—trying to achieve those three major points that I mentioned-there's just no way that I can comment on or speculate about what might happen, because I don't want anything that might in any way affect those negotiations, all of which involve the very things that you're asking about. And I just have to remain silent on those.
Q. Mr. President, many Arab States are saying that if Israel invades Beirut—West Beirut, it can only be because you have given Israel a green light to do so. Have you done so? Will you? And what will be your attitude if Israel goes into West Beirut?
The President. Sam, again this is the type of question in which, with the negotiations at the point they are, that I can't answer.
I would like to say this: No, I've given no green light whatsoever. And an impression that I know some of the neighboring states there have had from the beginning is that somehow we were aware of this and we gave permission or something. No, we were caught as much by surprise as anyone, and we wanted a diplomatic solution and believe there could have been one.
Q. But, sir, if I may, last week your Deputy Press Secretary said that when Prime Minister Begin was here, he promised you that Israel would go no further into Beirut.
The President. I think also—his not having heard the conversation between Prime Minister Begin and myself—that what he called a promise actually was in a discussion in which, to be more accurate, the Prime Minister had said to me that they didn't want to and that they had not wanted to from the beginning.
Q. Mr. President, some Israeli officials have acknowledged in recent days the use of cluster bombs in the war in Lebanon. How much does this concern you?
The President. It concerns me very much, as the whole thing does. And, Judy, we have a review going now, as we must by law, of the use of weapons and whether American weapons sold there were used offensively and not defensively. And that situation is very ambiguous. The only statement that we've heard so far with regard to the cluster bomb was one military official—Israeli military official-has apparently made that statement publicly, and we know no more about it than what we ourselves have read in the press. But the review is going forward and the review that would lead to what the law requires, that we must inform the Congress as to whether we believe there was a question of this being an offensive attack or whether it was in self-defense.
When I said "ambiguous," you must recall that prior to this attack Soviet-built rockets and 180-millimeter cannon were shelling villages across the border in Israel and causing civilian casualties.
JULY 1, 1982
Israeli Invasion of Lebanon
Q. Mr. President, you said yesterday that Mr. Begin's pledge to you that came during the meeting last week had been mistakenly reported as a promise that Israel would not invade further into Lebanon, that in fact he had said only that he hoped that Israel would not have to invade further into Lebanon. If that is true, number one, how could that have happened? And number two, why did the erroneous report—why was it allowed to go uncorrected for so long?
The President. On the pledge idea? I didn't know—he had several conversations with other people. And when I first heard that he had made this promise, I was going to check with the State Department to see had he said it there. It turned out that it-and how it could happen was, I think, explainable. It was a case of the second hand repeating—maybe even third hand—within the shop of the conversation that I had had with him, which was a conversation just between the two of us and which he had expressed the fact that he did not want to invade Lebanon. And this had never been his intention—and how the cease-fires kept being broken and so forth and it arrived to that threatening place. And so, as soon as I realized that it was based on my conversation with him, I corrected the fact that, no, he had not promised: He had said that that had not been his intention, and he did not want to if he could avoid it.
Q. Thank you, Mr. President. Jeanne Innerson from King Television in Seattle. It was reported today the Egyptian foreign minister said that your administration knew about Israel's pending invasion of Lebanon and didn't do anything about it in return for Israeli promise of support for Mr. Haig's Presidency in 1984. Could you comment on both parts of that question? [Laughter]
The President. You say the Egyptian Ambassador said that?
Q. No, it was said by the Egyptian Minister of State for Foreign Affairs today. He also said that it's the widespread perception among Arab countries.
The President. Oh. He needs to be talked to. [Laughter] No, and we do know—and this is very troublesome; it's very difficult for me to comment—and I've been grateful that there haven't been more Lebanon questions, because the negotiations are so delicate right now that, as I said last night in the press conference, there's very little that I can answer. But this I can answer.
We know that the Arab States—and many of which we've been trying to establish a bond with them so that we can bring them into the peace-making process with Israel, and we've called it "create more Egypts." This is the only way we're going to settle that particular problem in the Middle East, is if we can get more Arab nations that are willing to come forward as Egypt did and establish a peace treaty, recognize the right of Israel to exist. And we've been doing this.
We're terribly disturbed, because it has come to our attention that for some reason they are convinced that we—if we did not actually connive and give our consent, that we were aware of it and did nothing about it. We were caught as much by surprise as anyone.
We've had Phil Habib 2 there who, as you know—and God bless him, if there's ever a hero—Phil Habib, as you know, created, when we first sent him there, and has kept alive for 11 months until this latest tragedy the cease-fire in the Middle East. He's done a superhuman job. And he's still there and negotiating. And that's why I don't want to do anything to louse up his act.
But we knew that they had gone up to the border as a threat. We knew they'd mobilized; the whole world knew that, and you were all writing and talking about it. And it is true that the PLO from across the border had shelled and rocket-attacked some of the villages in Israel. But when they crossed the border—and presumably to go only 40 kilometers and then form a line to protect their border against these artillery attacks—that was a surprise. Then when they did not stop—and they justified that on the basis that once they tried to stop, they were under attack, and they had to keep pursuing the enemy—no, this was not done with our approval or our consent.
And I will have to say on behalf of Al Haig: Number one, I don't believe he has such ambitions, and, number two, believe me, he's served his country too long to have done anything of that kind. He never would have.
And we're continuing with everything we can do now. We've been 5 days in the present cease-fire, and we're just hanging on that—we can maintain and that the negotiations will be successful. And as I said last night—I'll repeat them—the three goals are: for Lebanon to create a stable government, which they haven't had for 7 years-they've had several factions, each with its own militia—but a single united Lebanese army and government controlling its own territory; guaranteeing the border between Israel—because so far they've had another government and army living within their midst, the PLO—changing that; and then all the other countries getting out of Lebanon. And we're working as hard as we can to that end.
But anything you can all do to convince the Arab States—we're trying our best. But, no, we were not a party to that.
JULY 28, 1982
Situation in Lebanon
Q. Mr. President, I would like to stay with foreign policy, but turn to the Middle East. And I wondered what effect you believe the constant, day-after-day bombing by the Israelis and shelling by the Israelis in Beirut is having on your efforts and your special envoy, Mr. Habib's, efforts to try to bring some kind of a settlement? And, secondly, Mr. Habib has been there nearly 7 weeks. And can you give us some idea what progress, if any, he is making?
The President. John, there's nothing we would like more than to see an end to the bloodshed and the shelling. But I must remind you it has also been two-way. The PLO has been, and in some instances has been the first to break the cease-fire. That we would like to see ended, of course. And we still stay with our original purpose, that we want the exodus of the armed PLO out of Beirut and out of Lebanon. Mr. Habib has been making a tour of countries to see if we can get some help in temporary staging areas for those people.
We want the central government of Lebanon to once again, after several years of almost dissolution—to once again be the authority with a military force, not several militias belonging to various factions in Lebanon. And then we want the foreign forces, Israeli and Syrian both, out of Lebanon.
Habib—Ambassador Habib has been doing a magnificent job. I don't comment on specifics, because I know how sensitive these negotiations are. And sometimes you lose some ground that you think you'd gained, and sometimes you gain again. I still remain optimistic that the solution is going to be found. As I say, he has returned from that trip to other countries—some of the other Arab States and to Tel Aviv.
Contrary to some reports or rumors today, there are no deadlines that have been set of any kind. There is an unsubstantiated report now that another cease-fire has gone into effect. Let's hope it'll hold.
But he continues to believe it is worthwhile to continue the negotiations, and I think he's entitled to our support.
Q. Sir, you said that you wanted the bombing stopped, if I understood you correctly. Have you conveyed your feelings to Prime Minister Begin?
The President. Well, when I say that, what I should say is, we want the bloodshed and the conflict to stop. And I'm hesitant to say anything further about where we are in those or who might be providing the stumbling block, now, to the steps that I just outlined that are necessary to bring peace there. So, I can't go beyond that except to say that unless and until Ambassador Habib would tell me that there's nothing more to be negotiated and he can't solve it, I'm going to continue to be optimistic.
Q. Mr. President, you mentioned earlier the sensitivity of the Lebanese negotiations. Did you consider it harmful to those diplomatic efforts last week when several U.S. Congressmen met with PLO leader Arafat? And do you feel Congressman McCloskey and the others were either manipulated or used by Arafat to make it look like there was progress?
The President: Well now, I will be conscious of the separation of powers and say it, of course, is the right of Congressmen to go there if they so choose. I don't happen to believe that right now it is a good time to do that or a good idea. But I believe that the Congressmen themselves, that Representative McCloskey himself has said that he now believes that the paper that was signed did not amount to anything and so he's—
Secretary of the Interior Watt
Q. Mr. President, a question concerning a member of your Cabinet, Secretary Watt. You recently had to disavow some comments by him when he suggested that U.S. support for Israel might be curtailed if American Jews do not support your energy policy. Now Mr. Watt in a letter to Congress suggests that American troops might have to fight in the Middle East if there's any interference with the vast new offshore oil drilling. Is Secretary Watt reflecting your views? Is he reflecting the foreign policy of the administration? Or, as Senator Moynihan suggests, has he embarrassed your administration and is someone who should be fired?
The President. No, Mike, he shouldn't be fired. And as I say, the whole context of his letter and the opening statement you made from that letter, or paraphrasing it, was the result of a conversation with [Israeli] Ambassador Arens, a lengthy discussion of this subject at a social gathering the night before. And as many of us do, you go home and you think of a couple of points you hadn't made, and he made them. What he was suggesting, with regard to the danger to Israel, was our vulnerability as long as we are dependent on oil—energy from insecure sources, and that if there should be, as we once had, an embargo and if we should find ourselves without the energy needed to turn the wheels in this country and the wheels of industry, we wouldn't be much of an ally to our friends. And that would certainly include Israel. And he was making it very plain that we are morally obligated to the support of Israel.
Now, he has made a speech to a group in New York, I believe it was B'nai B'rith, today, and I understand that in outlining his whole position and where he stands, that his audience was most enthusiastic and supportive of what he had to say.
His letter to the Congressmen—I think he was only trying to make the example that some of those who had been the most outspoken up there have also been the-had the most objections to us trying to improve our energy situation. And what he was pointing out is, where would the Western world be if someday our source of supply was purely there in the Persian Gulf and it was denied to us? So, this was his dramatic statement about the other.
Palestine Liberation Organization
Q. As you've said before and as your spokesmen have been saying, PLO chief Arafat has not yet met the conditions that the United States Government has set for direct talks with you. However, do you think that Mr. Arafat is moving in that direction? And would you welcome such a development?
The President. Well, I think it would be a step forward in progress if the PLO would change the position it has had, and that is that Israel must be destroyed or that it has no right to exist as a nation. And what that would require is agreeing to abide by the U.N. Resolutions 242 and 338, agreeing that Israel is a nation and does have a right to exist. Then I would feel that the United States could enter into discussions with the PLO.
Now, I'm not speaking for Israel. That's up to them, and we could not speak for them. But we're not—we're there as an intermediary, offering our services to try and help bring about peace in the Middle East.
Q. Would you also, then, support an independent Palestinian state, which is what the PLO wants?
The President. That again, I think, is up to the negotiators. We wouldn't impose anything on them. But Egypt and Israel, under the Camp David agreement, they are supposed to enter into now an area of talking of autonomy for the Palestinians. And that, again, is something that has been delayed because of this tragedy in Lebanon. But I think that is up to them as to how that autonomy develops and what they see as a proper solution to the Palestinian problem.
AUGUST 13, 1982
Situation in Lebanon
Q. Mr. President, why didn't you take the kind of highly publicized, public action to stop the bombing in Beirut before you did yesterday? Perhaps hundreds of thousands could—or thousands anyway—could have been saved. Why not be—why not go public, no matter what you may have said in private, sir?
The President. Well, much of what we said—and we weren't silent or idle in all this time that Habib 1 has been working-but the sensitivity of the negotiations were such that I avoided, as you know, anything that might interfere with those negotiations or in some way injure what Ambassador Habib was trying to accomplish.
However, yesterday the situation was that the negotiations were down—we had general agreement by all parties finally to the arrangement, and the negotiations were down to the logistics, the technicalities of getting the people—well, getting the PLO moving and so forth. And those negotiations, literal]y, were broken off by the extent of that bombing and shelling. The delegates couldn't even get to the negotiation meetings. And I have to be fair and say that, in my first call, I was informed then by Prime Minister Begin that he had ordered a cessation of the aerial bombing, and so, we discussed the artillery shelling from then on.
Q. Mr. President, why don't you tell us a little bit of how you felt in these 9 weeks with people being bombarded and your continuing to send weapons to inflict this horror on them? I mean, what has been your personal feeling?
The President. As I say, this was a matter of great concern, and we were trying to get an end to it. On the other hand, I think that perhaps the image has been rather one-sided, because of the Israeli capability at replying, but in many instances—in fact, most of them—the cease-fire was broken by PLO attacking those Israeli forces.
Q. Well, they were the invaders, were they not?
The President. Are they the invaders or is the PLO the invaders? Lebanon is the country—
Q. As of June 6th.
The President. —but, on the other hand, if we look now at the stories that are beginning to come out and that some have been public, the PLO was literally a government and an armed force in another nation and beholden in no way to that other nation, which was one of the reasons why you didn't hear more protest from the Lebanese Government about the Israeli presence.
Q. Mr. President, you said that yesterday you did have a general agreement, and then there was this firing. Are we back on track today? Do we still have a general agreement? And would you go along with some forecasts that say the PLO evacuation will begin sometime next week?
The President. I'm reasonably optimistic. Now, see, I didn't say "cautiously." I'm reasonably optimistic about this, because I believe that this time the cease-fire is going to hold, and, as I say, the negotiations now are not the case of trying to persuade agreement on the part of the various parties. The negotiations are on the technicalities, the logistical move that must be made in getting them out. And so, I think there's reason for, great reason for hope.
Q. The PLO—would the evacuation start next week? As early as that?
The President. I can't—again, I don't want to speculate on that, because I'm not there at the negotiating table.
Here, and then I've got to get back there into those back lines there.
Q. Mr. President, has the Israeli action in Lebanon, often against U.S. wishes—the massive retaliation for violations of the cease-fire by the PLO, has that changed in any way the special relationship between Israel and the United States? And has it changed your own personal views toward Israel?
The President. No, I think—and I was concerned also that—the reason for the call, that it could endanger that—the manner in which it's being portrayed, there's been less emphasis on the provocation and more emphasis on the response. And, yes, I did and have voiced the opinion that the response many times was out of proportion to the provocation. But we can't deny that the Israelis have been taking casualties from those cease-fire violations themselves. I think the figure now is 326 dead of their own military from being attacked in the breaking of the cease-fire.
Q. Has it changed your own attitude?
The President. What?
Q. Has it changed your own attitude toward Israel?
The President. I still believe that this country has an obligation to pursue the peace process that was started in Camp David and that this country has an obligation to ensure Israel's survival as a nation.
SEPTEMBER 28, 1982
Situation in Lebanon
Q. Mr. President, when the Palestinian fighters were forced to leave Beirut, they said that they had America's word of honor that those they left behind would not be harmed. Now comes U.N. Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who says that America must share in the blame for these massacres. My question to you is, do you agree with that judgment? And I'd like to follow up.
The President. Helen, I think the manner in which Jeane said that—and she's talked to me about it—was one about the responsibility of all of us back over a period of time with regard to the separation and divisions in Lebanon, the whole matter of the Middle East, and not doing more to bring about the peace that we're trying so hard now to get.
I don't think that specifically there could be assigned as a responsibility on our part for withdrawing our troops. They were sent in there with one understanding. They were there to oversee and make sure that the PLO left Lebanon. And that mission was completed, virtually without incident, and they left. Then, who could have foreseen the assassination of the President-elect that led to the other violence and so forth.
Q. Well, why did you give orders to our Representative at the U.N. to vote against an inquiry to find out how it happened, and why?
The President. As I understand it, there were things additional in that inquiry, things that we have never voted for and will not hold still for, such things as sanctions and such things as voting Israel out of the U.N. Now, I can't recall exactly now what it was that caused our vote to be negative on that. But the Lebanese and the Israelis are apparently going forward with such an inquiry.
Q. Mr. President, you've told us that you're sending marines to Lebanon for a limited amount of time, and yet you haven't told us what the limit is. Can you give us a general idea of how long you expect them to stay there and tell us precisely what you would like to see them accomplish before they withdraw?
The President. I can't tell you what the time element would be. I can tell you what it is that they should accomplish, and I hope sooner rather than later.
One, they're there along with our allies, the French and the Italians, to give a kind of support and stability while the Lebanese Government seeks to reunite its people-which have been divided for several years now into several factions, each one of them with its own army—and bring about a unified Lebanon with a Lebanese Army that will then be able to preserve order in its own country. And during this time, while that's taking place, the withdrawal, as quickly as possible, to their own borders of the Israelis and the Syrians.
Now, there we've had declarations from both countries that they want to do that. So, I am reasonably optimistic about that. I had no way to judge about when the Lebanese Government—the Lebanese Government will be the ones that tell us when they feel that they're in charge and they can go home.
Q. Are you then saying that they will remain there until all foreign forces are withdrawn?
The President. Yes, because I think that's going to come rapidly; I think we're going to see the withdrawal. Our marines will go in tomorrow morning, as said, because the Israelis have agreed to withdraw to that line south of the airport.
Middle East Peace Negotiations
Q. Mr. President, it has been reported that you believe that Israel is sabotaging your peace initiative and also that you now believe that Israel has become the Goliath in the Middle East and that the other countries, the Arab countries, are the Davids. Did you say that? Do you believe that?
The President. I didn't say it exactly that way. In fact, I didn't say that I thought they were the Goliath. I said that one of the things, as the negotiations approach and we proceed with this peacemaking business, that Israel should understand, as we've come to understand from talking to other Arab States, that where from the very beginning, all of us, including Israel, have thought of them as the tiny country fighting for its life, surrounded by larger states and hostile states that want to see it destroyed, that their military power has become such that there are Arab States that now voice a fear that they're expansionist, that they may be expansionist and they have the military power. So, all I was referring to was that.
The first part of your statement there, though, about Israel and trying to undermine—no, I don't believe that. I think that both sides have voiced things that they feel very strongly about, and contrary to what I had suggested in my proposal and having been a long-time union negotiator, I happen to think that some of that might be each side staking out its position so as to be in a better position when it comes time to negotiate.
Q. That's very kind of you. I just wanted to ask you, since you said you didn't think that Israel was trying to undermine your peace initiative, whether you are less optimistic about its chances since the massacre and the tragedy in Beirut?
The President. No, I'm not less optimistic. I'm also not deluding myself that it's going to be easy. Basically what we have, I think, in this peace proposal is a situation where on one side territory is the goal and on the other side security. And what has to be negotiated out is a kind of exchange of territory for security. And I meant what I said when I proposed this plan, and that is, this country will never stand by and see any settlement that does not guarantee the security of Israel.
Arms Sales to Israel
Q. Mr. President, shortly before the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the administration informally notified Congress that it was planning to send more F-16's to Israel. There's been no formal notification since then. Is the delay linked to difficulties in relations with Israel? When do you think formal notification will go up, and under what conditions?
The President. They're still on tap, and we haven't sent the formal notification up. And, very frankly, it was simply because in the climate of things that were going on, we didn't think it was the time to do it. However, there has been no interruption of those things that are in the pipeline, spare parts, ammunition, things of that kind. The only thing that we have actually withheld after the controversy that came on in Lebanon was the artillery shell, the so-called cluster shell.
Relations With Israel
Q. Mr. President, I seem to get the impression from what you are saying about our relationships with Israel that nothing has really changed in the wake of the massacre in Beirut or the temporary rejection, anyway, of your peace plan. Is that correct? Is there no change at all?
The President. There's no change in the sense that we're still going with everything we can. We're going to try and persuade the Arab neighbors of Israel to do as Egypt once did, and Israel, to negotiate out a permanent peace solution, in which Israel will no longer have to remain an armed camp, which is making their life economically unbearable. And at the same time, an answer must be found that is just and fair for the Palestinians. And I don't think anything has happened to change that, if I understood your question correctly. Nothing has changed in our feeling of obligation to bring about, if we can, such a result.
Q. Sir, I really meant our relationship with the Begin government. Is it as cordial and friendly? Is it now tense? Is it—what is the situation?
The President. I can tell you one thing it isn't. It isn't what some of you have said or written, that we are deliberately trying to undermine or overthrow the Begin government. We have never interfered in the internal government of a country and have no intention of doing so, never have had any thought of that kind. And we expect to be doing business with the Government of Israel and with Prime Minister Begin, if that's the decision of the Israeli people. I think that Frank Reynolds [ABC News] last night voiced something that we believe, and that is that the Israeli people are proving with their reaction to the massacre that there's no change in the spirit of Israel. They are our ally, we feel morally obligated to the preservation of Israel, and we're going to continue to be that way.
OCTOBER 14, 1982
The Middle East
Representative Hiler. Mr. President? This is John Hiler from South Bend, Indiana. I want to compliment you on a very fine speech last evening.
The question I have, Mr. President, is what are the prospects for real peace in the Middle East?
The President. Well, Jack, I think the prospects are good. I'm optimistic about the Middle East and what's going on there. As you know, we've had our good man, Ambassador Habib, over there negotiating again, the man who brought about the cease-fire. And he is assisted by another one, his companion, Ambassador Draper. But what we're trying to do is, first, help the newly elected President over there, with our multinational force, establish stability in Lebanon. They've been, for several years, divided up into factions, each faction with its own militia. But I think progress is being made there. We've heard statements recently that both Israel and Syria have expressed their willingness to leave. They, I think, would like to do it simultaneously.
And so I think progress is being made. And then we've been in contact with the Arab nations, as well as with our friends and allies in Israel. And it will take negotiations under the Camp David pattern to bring about a just solution for the Palestinian refugees and at the same time have the other Arab States do what Egypt did first, and that is recognize the right of Israel to exist as a nation and have peace treaties with them. And I think that we have a very good chance of succeeding.
NOVEMBER 11, 1982
Q. Mr. President, Israel continues to ignore your call for a freeze of settlements on the West Bank. How damaging is Israel's ignoring of that freeze to the peace process, and what are you prepared to do about it?
The President. Well, Prime Minister Begin is coming here, and I'm sure that he and I will have some talks on that, as well as other subjects. We do think that it is a hindrance to what we're trying to accomplish in the peace movement.
Obviously the solution to the Middle East must be what we outlined earlier, and that is to bring the Arab States and Arab leaders and the Israelis together at a negotiating table to resolve the differences between them. And that begins with them recognizing Israel's right to exist as a nation.
So, I am still optimistic, and that's why Phil Habib is going back there. Now—wait
Q. If I may follow up. Are you prepared to do more than just talk with Prime Minister Begin? Are you prepared to consider any sanctions to force a change in Israeli policy?
The President. Well, I don't think that it would be good diplomacy to be threatening or anything, and I don't believe that's necessary. I think that all of us realize that peace is the ultimate goal there.
Q. Mr. President, I'd like to try it again on Israel and possible sanctions. Is it possible that the United States might cut back on aid to Israel in direct proportion to the cost to that country of establishing new settlements on the West Bank, all this as a means of achieving the freeze that you're seeking?
The President. To answer that question one way or the other, I don't think would be helpful in the situation that we're in today, where we have made so much progress with the Arab States, the unusual, the unique thing of the representatives of the Arab League being here to meet with me as they were just some days ago; the need now for Israel to itself recognize that they too must play a part in making it possible for negotiations; the part that must be played and recognized and that one of President Gemayel's problems now is reconciling Muslim groups within his own' country. I don't think to start talking about whether I should or should not make threats of some kind or other is going to be fruitful at all
Q. [Inaudible]—got a request here for some factual information. Is it true that the Begin government now is spending about a hundred million dollars a year to subsidize, settlements on the West Bank?
The President. I don't know that figure. I imagine I could find that out very easily.
DECEMBER 18, 1982
The Middle East
Q. Mr. President, you have King Hussein of Jordan coming in here next week. He's been described as the linchpin in your Middle East peace initiative, because of your proposal for the Palestinian entity. What do you think are the prospects of bringing him on board the Camp David process at this point?
The President. King Hussein is not only a very intelligent and responsible leader, but I think that he is very sensitive to all of the problems that are involved and very sincerely desirous of peace in the Middle East and a resolution of this problem. And I think that he will be cooperative. And I think we can count on him for that. But the main thing right now that we have Ambassadors Habib and Draper working on in the Middle East is to get what now constitute armies of occupation—the PLO, the Syrians, and the Israelis—out of Lebanon, and let the Gemayel government have the sovereignty of their own country.
I call them armies of occupation, because there was a time in which Lebanon, with all of its troubles and its divisions, did have to welcome them in in an effort to create order. But now that government has had enough confidence to ask them to leave. For them to continue to stay against the will of Lebanon makes them, technically, armies of occupation. And we're working on that. That is the first step. And then we move to the peace process, involving the Palestinian problem, Israel, and guaranteeing the security of Israel's borders.
Source: Public Papers of the President