Lebanese Christians see US diplomatic tilt toward Syria
Maronite Christian political forces in Lebanon are upset at what they see as a United States tilt toward Syria. The Christians - whose assent will be critical to an upcoming dialogue aimed at reconciling warring Lebanese factions - fear the US is shifting its emphasis away from trying to get all foreign forces out of Lebanon. They feel the Americans are now concentrating instead on pressuring for an internal dialogue among feuding Lebanese communities.Skip to next paragraph
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Such a dialogue is a provision of the Sept. 25 cease-fire, called to end three weeks of bitter civil warfare in the mountainous Shouf region southeast of Beirut.
The Christians say the cease-fire formula gives too much influence to the Syrians.
By negotiating the formula, the US and Lebanese government have abruptly reversed their focus from solving the external problems to addressing internal reform.
''The US switched because they have no leverage on Syria,'' charged a senior official in the Lebanese Forces, the primarily military arm of the Christian Lebanese Front, which also includes some senior Maronite Christian political functionaries.
Fadi Frem, commander of the Lebanese Forces, has already said that while they will abide by the cease-fire, his militia will not accept any political results of dialogue which they consider inimical to Christian interests.
The Lebanese Forces are not slated to participate in the political ''dialogue.'' It was the Lebanese Forces whose presence in the Shouf mountains sparked the fighting with Druze militias. The fighting ultimately also involved the Lebanese Army and the US Marines.
While Lebanese Forces officials have been outspoken in their attacks on the proposed dialogue as a political trap, the positions of senior Maronite leaders like Pierre Gemayel and Camille Chamoun are still not clear. Mr. Chamoun has voiced doubts about attending. Lebanese Forces officials insist that the two groups will take the same position, though there have been hints that the militiamen are more determined in their opposition.
The cease-fire agreement calls for a political conference to revise Lebanon's power-sharing arrangements. The conference will include the Christian Lebanese Front; the pro-Syrian National Salvation Front, which has Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Druze leaders; the Shiite Muslim Amal movement; and the element anathema to Christian leaders - Syrian as well as Saudi observers.
''We want national reconciliation but not under the Syrian guns,'' said a Lebanese Forces official. ''The items which will be raised would be different if the Syrians were out.''
The Christians argue that the Syrian presence at the conference, especially if it is held in Saudi Arabia and not in Lebanon, will encourage - or intimidate - the Lebanese opposition into holding out for items thatLebanese President Amin Gemayel cannot accept. These would include abrogation of the May 17 accord between Israel and Lebanon, and a continued strong Syrian military and political presence in Lebanon.
Lebanese Forces officials are especially scornful of the statement by a senior US officials in Beirut on Monday that a national-unity government sympathetic to Syrian interests might ultimately result in withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
''If the US thinks the Syrians will leave because of that, they are kidding themselves,'' said a top Christian official. He said the Syrians wanted to play the Soviets andAmericans against each other.
The Maronites, who hold many of the country's key positions despite their numerically inferior numbers to Muslim groups, find themselves increasingly squeezed. They insist they are willing to shift the Lebanese power balance.
Muslim groups such as the Shiites, the largest bloc in Lebanon, complain they have been consistently ignored. Some high-placed Maronites admit in private that President Gemayel may have erred in not paying enough attention to the Druzes and the Shiites over the past year in hopes of drawing them away from reliance on the Syrians for political leverage.
Having been effectively dropped by Israel as its primary ally, the Maronites know their last outside hope is the US. So they are torn between a desire not to anger the Americans and the fear that the US may have decided to permit Lebanon to be ''Finlandized'' under Syrian control. One idea being floated in Maronite circles as a way out of their dilemma is to transform the proposed participants in a conference on reconciliation into a super-Cabinet of a government of national unity, which could then deliberate in Beirut on internal reforms without the direct participation of the Syrians.
Should this or some other compromise not come about, Christians' participation in the dialogue may be questionable. Even if they take part, they - or the badly hurt but still potent Lebanese Forces - could become a major obstacle in the talks.