Lebanon tries to save peace talks
Beirut — As rescuers search the ruins of the US Marine and French paratroop compounds, the Lebanese government is working desperately to prevent the bomb blasts here from destroying political reconciliation efforts.
''We shall not allow the forces of evil to destroy all the current attempts to rebuild Lebanon,'' says President Gemayel. But civilian morale has been dealt a devastating blow. Hopes of future stability have been undermined. And anxieties have been raised about the United States commitment in the wake of what is considered one of the worst acts of terrorism in a nation long afflicted with vicious bouts of violence.
At time of writing, the number of confirmed fatalities was reported to have risen to 183 US marines and 22 French troops. And as the shock sank in, many Lebanese seemed to transfer their sense of despair over the brutal attacks to the current political efforts.
Although an emergency Cabinet session late Sunday confirmed that the scheduled Oct. 31 reconciliation summit in Switzerland would go ahead as planned , a widespread feeling was voiced here that Lebanon has little hope for a stable future if the toughest unit of the West's strongest state could not withstand attack.
There were also the first signs of anxiety about the US commitment. Despite the reaffirmation of support from Washington, Lebanese officials in private wondered just how high a price the US and the other three countries contributing to the multinational peacekeeping force were prepared to pay to salvage Lebanon.
Elsewhere in the Arab world attention centered on US Mideast policy, which was symbolically attacked in the bombings. Reaction was typified by Muhammad Youssef al-Adasan, speaker of parliament in pro-US Kuwait.
''America is reaping the results of its policy in Lebanon,'' Mr. Adasan said. He urged the Reagan administration to ''reconsider'' its Middle East platform before US interests in the ''entire Arab region become endangered.''
Kuwait's al-Watan newspaper predicted US policy would turn Lebanon ''into another Vietnam for the Americans.'' It appealed to the multinational force ''to leave at once.'' And Bahrain's Akhbar al-Khaleej editorialized that the attacks were the ''most eloquent reply to Reagan's press conference, where he insisted on continued American involvement in Lebanon.''
Arab politicians and newspapers are increasingly outspoken in their condemnation of seemingly unconditional US support for the weak minority regime in Lebanon, which has been unable to cope with the growing militancy of majority Muslims. US actions are increasingly perceived as partisan in favor of the minority Christians, at the expense of majority Muslims. The Muslims are demanding major government reforms. American diplomats have vehemently argued that the US is not siding with the Christians, but the denials fall on unconvinced ears.
Tension in the region has been further heightened by Washington's pledge to retaliate against the still unidentified party behind the suicide attacks. Indeed the two major questions - who and why - remain unanswered, beyond the diplomatic assmmptions that antigovernment forces were out to wreck the mood of reconciliation.
An unheard of group, the ''Free Islamic Revolutionary Movement,'' called the French news agency in Beirut claiming responsibility for the bombings and naming the ''martyrs'' who drove the trucks on their kamikaze-style missions.
An anonymous spokesman said, ''The movement will not stop until Beirut is back under the control of Muslim revolutionaries and the struggling democratic youth.'' He added that the group's policy called for the ''return of Palestine to the Palestinians, the liberation of Lebanon from imperialists and isolationists, and strengthening the Islamic revolution in all parts of the Arab world.'' BUt thete was little initial credence given to the claim.
Iran denied allegations by US Defense Secretary Caspar W%O/- that circumstantial evidence pointed to Iranian extremists. Officials charged Washington was trying to destroy Iran's public image.
There was wide condemnation of the attacks by many Arab governments and by most of the major factions in Lebanon, including Druze chief Walid Jumblatt and Shiite Muslim leader Nabih Berri.
But a statement from Mr. Jumblatt underlined that the controversy over the multinational force, particularly US participation, was not over. He said French troops were ''necessary'' to peace efforts. But he added that US participation ''was another question.''
Meanwhile, three planeloads of US marines were scheduled to arrive in Beirut to replace the more than 250 American military personnel killed or injured in the attack. And the Marine commandant, Gen. Paul Kelly, was expected to visit to review security conditions for the 1,600-man US contingent.