Moscow: A Ray of Hope for Beirut?

BEIRUT is again in flames with the breakdown of the Arab League cease-fire last weekend. As one result, the United States has put Lebanon higher on this week's superpower agenda in Moscow. State Department spokesmen squarely laid the blame for the renewed fighting on ``Syria and some of its [Lebanese] militia allies.'' While US spokesmen made bows to Syrian sensibilities, the key to stopping the artillery exchanges is changing Syria's attitude, informed US and European diplomats say.

These sources, who spoke only on the grounds of anonymity, say that Walid Jumblatt, Lebanese Druze leader and close Syrian ally, is saying his forces will continue shelling the Christians to stop Iraq's military resupply of their enclave - but that Gen. Michel Aoun, the Christian leader, should observe the cease-fire.

There is general agreement in Washington and other Western capitals that Iraq should stop fueling the situation with arms, a diplomat here says. But ``statements like [Mr. Jumblatt's] border on the mad.''

The problem is the mode of thinking at work in Lebanon, a ranking US specialist says. ``If you offer a concession,'' as General Aoun did in agreeing to the cease-fire, ``it's seen as a sign of weakness and the other side ups the demands,'' he says. This is just what Syria and Jumblatt have done, a ranking French diplomat says.

There are two rays of hope - that Moscow and the United Nations might assert themselves, informed diplomats say. For the first time, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze on Saturday publicly called for support of the Arab League cease-fire and cooperation with its peacemaking efforts. He flagged Soviet concern over the possible disintegration of Lebanon, saying he would raise the crisis with Secretary of State James Baker III.

Given Moscow's role as Syria's main arms supplier and its role on the United Nations Security Council, Mr. Shevardnadze's remarks may indicate a new willingness to exert pressure on Damascus directly and in the UN, US officials say. Mr. Baker is prepared to explore both options.

The basic US strategy, officials add, is to try to increase international pressure on Syria to abide by the cease-fire. This would entail the arrival of 300 Arab League observers as a first step.

The latest fighting has also caused the US to take a fresh look at encouraging the UN to help build that pressure, a French official says. French Foreign Minister Roland Dumas called Baker Sunday to urge that Lebanon be a priority in Moscow.

The latest battles also sparked UN Secretary-General Javier P'erez de Cu'ellar to publicly offer support for the Arab League effort. He was earlier hesitant to get involved. According to well-informed diplomats, he told the head of the Arab League mediation committee that the UN will be forced to act if the fighting continues.

US officials say they will not have a clear idea of how cooperative Moscow is willing to be, and thus of the prospects for action in the Security Council, until after talks in Moscow May 11.

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