Reagan message to Syria is credited with helping to ease tension in Lebanon

A mixed-age congregation attended an Easter-week service in the Maronite Wardieh Church in west Beirut April 16 with renewed confidence that the balance that holds them in amity with their Muslim neighbors can be retained for some time to come.

Commentators here attribute a large share of the responsibility for this to President Reagan, who eased tensions with nearby Syria in a reassuring message to Syrian President Hafez Assad April 15.

Syrian troops of the Arab deterrent Force (ADF) in Lebanon clashed in fierce battles with local right-wing Christian militia earlier this month. The rightists became confident of United States backing after Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr. denounced Syrian actions here as "brutal" on April 6.

A subsequent message from Secretary Haig to Lebanese President Elias Sarkis softened the criticism of the Syrians and laid stress on strengthening the role of the Lebanese central government.

But now, apparently, President Reagan himself has moved further to allay Syrian fears that the US might wish to take issue with Syria over Lebanon.

Going considerably beyond the usual diplomatic niceties, the Reagan cable noted that "the role the Syrian leadership could play in strengthening the security and stability of the states of the region," Syrian media reported. This is taken as a cautious endorsement of the Syrian role in Lebanon.

President Reagan also expressed his appreciation of "the leading role Syria could play in achieving a just peace in the Middle East," press reports said.

Mr. Reagan's move is seen here as a sign that his administration is reciprocating the general goodwill first expressed by Mr. Assad last November. The latter's Arab Baathist principles and the friendship treaty with the Soviet Union did not prevent him from cabling congratulations for Mr. Reagan's election victory.

In the Mideast context, the warmth of Mr. Reagan's language will doubtless give pause to the Israelis. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin claimed confidently on April 15 that the US agreed with an Israeli assessment that both Syria and Libya were now "forward bases for the Soviet Union."

In fact, senior western diplomats in the Syrian capital of Damascus stressed, even after the signing of the friendship treaty with the Soviets last October, that Syria still wanted to retain good links with the US and the West.

These diplomats attributed the treaty in good part to Syria's feelings that the US-sponsored Mideast peace process made no provision for Israel withdrawal from Syria's Golan Heights.

In the Lebanese context Mr. Reagan's cable has helped calm tensions raised by the recent fighting and has contributed to an atmosphere suitable for national reconciliation.

The influential Lebanese daily An-Nahar reported that the latest Cabinet meeting here reached a consensus on three main points:

They are that violence will not solve the country's problems, that the unity of the country must be proserved through the unity of the government, and that Lebanon definitely belongs to its Arab surroundings and should reject any rel ationship with Israel.

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