Pushy Syria, wobbly Lebanon complicate Mideast diplomacy
Washington — Frustration might be one way to describe the latest Reagan administration reactions toward developments in the Middle East.
* It comes first of all over what are viewed as obstructionist moves by Syria in Lebanon. Delaying tactics, some officials call them.
* Then comes frustration over the Lebanese government's tendency to look not to itself but to the United States for solutions to all its major problems.
* Needless to say, there is anguish over the losses which the US marines have suffered in Lebanon. Two marines were killed by sniper fire in recent days, even as Lebanese factional leaders were supposed to be convening for their long-delayed reconciliation talks.
* Finally, there is consternation over Israel's attempt to sabotage a secret US plan to arm a Jordanian rapid-deployment force for possible intervention in the Gulf.
Administration officials say that all these frustrations were evident when President Reagan convened Cabinet-level policymakers at an inconclusive National Security Council meeting on the Middle East on Tuesday.
Officials are quick to caution, however, that so far none of this frustration adds up to any basic change in Middle East policy. There is no thought being given to reducing the US Marine force in Lebanon or cutting back in any other way the US commitment to supporting the Lebanese government, they say. An official says President Reagan has stressed to top-level policymakers that the US must continue to look for long-range solutions in the Middle East rather than short-term remedies. Reagan has made clear that he views this effort as necessary to contain Soviet influence in the Middle East.
But there is considerable disagreement within the bureaucracy as to how to achieve Reagan's goals. Several State Department officials close to Secretary of State George P. Shultz are advocating closer cooperation with Israel in Lebanon. But some Middle East specialists in the Department are opposed. Defense Department officials, in particular, raise objections to the idea of closer cooperation with Israel. They argue that the disclosure by Israelis of a secret American plan to arm a Jordanian rapid-deployment force for possible intervention in the Gulf showed that the Israelis cannot be relied on for regionwide strategic cooperation.
In addition, the bureaucrats are divided as to how to move forward on the Palestinian question. Reagan has indicated that he wants to move beyond Lebanon and deal with this problem within the context of his Sept. 1, 1982, proposal for peace in the Middle East. But the bureaucrats are short on new ideas.
Officials say a new effort may be made to bring King Hussein of Jordan into talks with Israel on the Palestinian question. The officials say that the King has ''signaled'' a willingness to take another look at this possibility. This past spring, Hussein declined to enter talks with the Israelis without gaining approval from the Palestine Liberation Organization.
But the most pressing problem for policymakers remains Lebanon and what is viewed as a Syrian effort to enhance its influence in that nation. Lebanese allies of the Syrians have refused to participate in reconciliation talks with Lebanese government officials which were to be held at the Beirut airport on Wednesday on the grounds that security at the airport was not adequate. But US officials say it is Syrian-backed gunners who have created the very insecurity which Syria's Lebanese allies are complaining about.
Another recurring problem, officials say, is a tendency on the part of the Lebanese government to look to the US for all the answers. Lebanese officials explain that they had been led to believe that the Reagan administration would do more than has been done to put pressure on the Syrians. US officials say that this is perhaps understandable, but that the Lebanese also look to the Americans for answers to the question of redistributing, or ''devolving,'' power in Lebanon.