Buoying the Habib mission

Philip Habib has found a stumbling block turned into a tail wind as he continues his arduous efforts for peace in Lebanon. Doubts remain about the wisdom of President Reagan's special Mideast envoy being employed as a consultant by a private concern, especially one like the Bechtel Corporation, which does extensive business in the Arab world. But a senator's call for the envoy's resignation has brought Mr. Habib himself a welcome vote of confidence from a wide political spectrum, including the Israeli lobby in Washington. It would hardly be in the interests of peace to lose the talents of Mr. Habib, whose present assignment follows the impressive achievement of a Lebanon cease-fire last year.

The passing cloud over the situation could be salutary if the administration learns from it. Mr. Habib is said to have informed the State Department of his Bechtel link when he was formally appointed to the Mideast post last year. The administration should not have waited for a newspaper to publicize the fact many months later. Nor should former Bechtel president George Shultz, who hired Mr. Habib for the company, have omitted such a key item when the subject of Bechtel was dwelt on in Senate hearings to confirm Mr. Shultz as secretary of state.

With a secretary of state, secretary of defense, and deputy secretary of energy all from Bechtel, the administration ought to know the public interest in further connections with the same firm. If there are any more to be publicized, the administration would do well not to let a newspaper scoop it again.

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