Welcome step on cluster bombs

President Reagan has done the minimum in suspending indefinitely the supply of cluster bombs to Israel. The action is a signal that the United States is displeased with Israel's use of these lethal weapons - which scatter scores of small bomblets when exploded - in Lebanon. It is a small step, but one in the right direction.

Many Americans, including Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the Congress , favor much stronger sanctions in light of Israel's clear misuse of US-supplied arms in invading Lebanon. But Mr. Reagan apparently feels, and perhaps with justification, that making an issue of Israeli violations of the US Arms Export Control Act now, while trying to negotiate a solution to the crisis in west Beirut, might be counterproductive. This is why he did not even explicitly accuse Israel of violating the terms under which the cluster shells were used, as he might have done.

But even this slap on the wrist, so to speak, is significant. In the past Washington has been reluctant to use the leverage of American aid to try to influence Israeli policies, even when those policies have been inimical to US interests. It now looks as if the President, without retreating from his firm support for Israel, is prepared to take a sterner view of Israeli actions which run counter to peace efforts - and, indeed, subvert them.

That would be a welcome change in US foreign policy. If Americans are to continue so generously aiding Israel, the least that should be demanded is that that aid not become the means of aggression instead of self-defense. On the contrary, it should serve the purpose of fostering conciliation, compromise, and the pursuit of peace.

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