Thanks, Mr. Habib

Diplomats come and diplomats go. Usually the public takes no note. But the American people should not let US negotiator Philip Habib go without a quiet acknowledgement of his untiring efforts on behalf of peace in the Middle East.

Mr. Habib recently resigned as Mideast envoy. A no-nonsense diplomat, he doubtless was the first to recognize that he could no longer be effective once the Syrians refused to receive him in Damascus. Mr. Habib helped negotiate the Israeli-Lebanese troop withdrawal agreement which President Assad now scorns as a sellout of Syria's interests. Replacing Mr. Habib is thus designed to give US diplomacy in the area a fresh start.

But even as the President's new envoy, National Security Council aide Robert McFarlane, prepares to go to the region, it is fitting to recall Mr. Habib's service of the past two years. He came out of retirement in May 1981 to defuse tensions between Israel and Syria over strife in Lebanon. Then, after Israel's invasion of Lebanon, he returned to conduct arduous negotiations for a new cease-fire and the evacuation of PLO and Syrian forces from Beirut. His Levantine background, his knowledge of and sensitivity to the nuances of Middle East politics, and his long experience as a career diplomat proved invaluable.

Phil Habib has already won a Medal of Freedom from President Reagan and does not need more official honors. But he can know that he has the nation's appreciation for the high standards of professionalism and integrity which he brought to the US Foreign Service.

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