Beirut bombings lend urgency to search for a settlement in Lebanon
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''There are many cross-pressures on the President,'' says Stephen Wayne, a political scientist specializing in the presidency at George Washington University. ''In the short run, the President must do something tough and demonstrative which will have the country's support. But he cannot burn his bridges and must move toward negotiation.''Skip to next paragraph
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''The same thing is true in Central America,'' Mr. Wayne said. ''Nicaragua has proposed terms. So my guess is that the President could be forced into a posture of negotiation in both areas. Reagan needs to be reelected as a peace President.''
White House spokesman Larry Speakes said, meanwhile, that intelligence reports pointed to an Iranian-supported group in Lebanon as the possible perpetrator of Sunday's bombings. But he said that there was no hard physical evidence from the scene of the bombing at the Marine headquarters in Lebanon to prove that the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim group was involved. This same group is suspected of bombing the US embassy in Beirut last April.
Some experts have suggested that retaliation against Iranian troops present in Lebanon might be called for. But the number of Iranians there is relatively limited. Such retaliation might call for more pinpoint precision than is possible in the midst of Lebanon's crazy-quilt factions.
If Reagan decides that a stronger negotiating push is called for, he now has a national security team with considerable experience in dealing with the Lebanese and Syrians. Robert C. McFarlane, his new national security adviser, recently spent three months as special envoy in the region, negotiating with all the parties to the Lebanon conflict. Secretary of State George P. Shultz presided over talks between the Israelis and Lebanese that led to an Israel-Lebanon agreement last May.
''A positive aspect to all this is that the US decisionmaking apparatus is in a position where policies can be made and coordinated,'' says Charles F. Doran, a political scientist at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. ''The difficulty is where to go. Reagan must react with firmness and bold action. But he cannot get trapped into a deeper guerrilla involvement. That is the dilemma.''
Administration officials are acutely aware of the political fallout that can occur if a foreign policy goes sour: President Carter was defeated in 1980 not only because of the poor state of the economy but also because of the public perception that he did not know how to cope with the Iran hostage crisis. But in foreign policy terms, the Iran hostage crisis was a relatively limited incident, involving a limited number of Americans in a fixed location. In Lebanon, experts say that American credibility is at stake throughout the Middle East.
Democratic presidential candidates Alan Cranston of California, Gary Hart of Colorado, and Ernest Hollings of South Carolina said Sunday that Reagan is violating the War Powers Act by keeping the marines in Lebanon.
''President Reagan should report to Congress under the War Powers Act, as he should have done in the first place,'' Senator Cranston said.
''He should either come to the Congress or get out,'' said Senator Hollings.