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Syrians don't want war, willing to pull out -- a Soviet view

By Ned TemkoStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / May 13, 1983



Moscow

A Soviet Mideast expert says Syria has indicated to Moscow it is anxious for a negotiated pullback of Israeli forces in Lebanon, despite rejection of United States-mediated terms for such a withdrawal.

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He also said US Secretary of State George Shultz was ''naive'' to think Moscow would take up his public call for Kremlin support of the present US plan.

If Washington truly wanted a full Soviet-US partnership in assembling a Mideast peace, the source suggested, Moscow would be interested. ''But the Shultz comments sound strange after the Carter administration, and especially the Reagan administration, have done everything possible to try to exclude us,'' he said.

The source - thought to have little direct influence on Moscow policy, yet with access to Soviet diplomatic and other information from the Mideast - also departed from the publicly offered explanation of Moscow's recent evacuation of embassy dependents from Beirut. He said that the move, which the Soviets have publicly called routine, was in fact linked to Beirut tension.

He said Soviet Ambassador Alexander Soldatov had asked for the evacuation after recent artillery duels near the capital spilled into Beirut itself. But the source added: ''One should not compare this with 1973,'' when Moscow withdrew dependents from the region in advance of the Arabs' surprise attack on Israel.

''That was an absolutely different situation,'' he said. ''In this case, only after four days of fighting (near Beirut) did the ambassador call in a plane. . . . There is a basement shelter in our embassy, but not enough space for all dependents.''

He further asserted that recent private remarks from senior Syrian officials, on which he had been briefed, left no doubt Damascus wanted no new showdown with the Israelis.

''When asked about exactly this, senior officials unhesitatingly, strongly replied they have no wish for fresh confrontation.''

He said the Syrians had made it clear they were extremely worried by Israel's continued presence in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley - ''a potential corridor to Damascus.'' He said this concern ''overshadows even the Syrians' (longstanding) rancor over Israeli presence on the Golan Heights.''

''The Syrians want an agreement on Israeli withdrawal from the Bekaa Valley, especially,'' the source asserted. ''And with such an agreement, they will withdraw (from Lebanon).''

''But they also want guarantees'' in such an accord ''against future Israeli aggression from there or elsewhere. Syrian security is closely intertwined with Lebanon's.''

''The Syrians have in mind an international guarantee, though they don't so far seem to have very precise ideas of what form it would take,'' he said.

He added, ''One sign of Syrian interest in a withdrawal accord is that (President Hafez) Assad received Shultz'' during his recent Mideast shuttle.

The Soviet specialist was asked to comment on Moscow news media charges of an imminent Israeli assault against the Syrians. He said he truly believed there was a danger Israel might strike - though, personally, he felt an Israeli ''blow in the Bekaa, perhaps a major one, is more likely than an attack on Syria itself.''

He said it was conceivable to him the Israelis might strike in order to ''undermine Syrian talks with the US'' on an amended withdrawal package.

Unlike some Soviet media commentaries, the analyst stopped short of suggesting there were concrete signs an Israeli-Syrian showdown is necessarily imminent. But he did say that given the tense proximity of Syrian and Israeli positions inside Lebanon, ''everything is ready on the ground.''