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Ronald Reagan Administration: News Conference on Lebanon, Relations with Israel

(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.


Situation in Lebanon

Q. Mr. President, do you have a plan for getting the United States out of Lebanon if fighting should break out there, or could the marine presence there lead to another long entanglement such as Vietnam?

The President. No, I don't see anything of that kind taking place there at all. And the marines are going in there, into a situation with a definite understanding as to what we're supposed to do. I believe that we are going to be successful in seeing the other foreign forces leave Lebanon. And then as such time as Lebanon says that they have the situation well in hand, why, we'll depart.

Q. Sir, if fighting should break out again, would you pull the marines out?

The President. You're asking a hypothetical question, and I've found out that I never get in trouble if I don't answer one of those.


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.


Middle East Peace Negotiations

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.

Yes, Sarah [Sarah McLendon, McLendon News Service].

Situation in Lebanon

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.


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....

Sources: Public Papers of the President