Lebanese take a small step toward peace
| Lausanne, Switzerland
''At least an interlude of calm.'' That, in the view of one veteran Lebanese political analyst, seemed to be where the country's reconciliation talks were ever so slowly heading after Tuesday's announcement that the rival delegates had agreed to order their gunmen back home to cease firing.
In a morning session, the Lebanese faction leaders - and Syria's ''observer, '' Abdel Halim Khaddam, more important to the outcome than any of the full-fledged participants - had failed to produce the predicted cease-fire statement as familiar gunfire continued in Lebanon.
Walid Jumblatt, the leader of the opposition Druze militia, emerged from the session with his now standard stream of invective against Lebanese President Amin Gemayel.
But conference sources said that the Syrians, whose military muscle helps afford them enormous leverage over Mr. Jumblatt and his rivals in the Lebanese dispute, were intent on getting a cease-fire announcement. And thus it did come, after an evening session.
The announced truce, however, could yet prove the easy part of any effort to bring sustained peace to a nation that has been axing itself apart for nine years.
To bring peace, as opposed to a temporary respite, the Syrians will have to deal with issues that the presence of their more than 40,000 troops in Lebanon cannot resolve alone.
One problem is how to police a cease-fire over the long haul. The American, Italian, and British contingents of the country's multinational force have begged out, largely under Syrian pressure. The remaining French contingent seems to be readying its departure, too. The Syrians moved out of the Beirut area - crucial to cease-fire prospects - when the Israelis invaded Lebanon in 1982.
Although Syrian forces remain elsewhere in Lebanon, a return to the capital could expose the troops to the kind of quickly escalating sniper duels Syrians faced there in the late 1970s. Damascus, therefore, may prove very reluctant to take on such a role.
That still leaves the possibility of a special United Nations force. It remains unclear whether Soviet-American tension can be skirted long enough to get a Security Council mandate for such a contingent.
Another problem is that Lebanon's rival armed religious communities may not be able to resist the habit of trying through fighting to reach goals that have eluded them politically. The Syrians' superior military strength may outweigh any such forays, but cannot necessarily prevent them from occurring.
But few conference sources doubted that Syria intended to try to impose something more than an interim cease-fire. Having succeeded in its bid to prevent an American-mediated peace in Lebanon, Syria has staked much on its ability to come up with a Syrian one.
Indeed, this has created a beautifully Levantine situation in which the ''victors'' in the most recent round of Lebanese fighting - Druze and Shiite militiamen who had Syrian support - have entered the reconciliation conference with the disadvantage of appearing to be victors. Syria wants to even out the Lebanese balance of power via a workable compromise. This means trimming the status of the Druzes and Muslims in favor of the militarily humbled President Gemayel.
Sources close to the President, although loath to predict the outcome of the conference, privately detailed the Syrians' apparent preference in this regard. They said it would involve, after the cease-fire announcement, agreement on the ''main lines'' of a political reform giving Lebanese Muslims more say in a nation traditionally dominated by Maronite Christians like Gemayel.
But the package would stop short of meeting all of the Muslims' demands. It would leave Gemayel in power as President and pave the way for him to form a ''national-unity Cabinet'' shortly after the conferees get back to Beirut.
Will all this prove possible?
The sources said that if the announced cease-fire held, this would imply at least better-than-even chances of some kind of follow-up compromise on the political front.
But at a minimum, the process would probably require a few days' debate, posturing, and invective to allow rival Christian and Muslim leaders to inch away from ''maximalist'' demands they had brought with them to the conference.
One rare item of certainty here, meanwhile, was that at least two previously central actors in the Lebanese diplomatic equation - the United States and Israel - have taken a back seat to the Syrians.
The US was represented here by an official from its Beirut embassy. Wearing a security tag identifying him as a mere ''visitor,'' he was reduced to asking newspapermen for the latest conference rumors and reports.
The Israelis, not visible at the talks at all, were understood to have dispatched a senior Foreign Ministry official to Lausanne to keep tabs on the talks' progress. But conference sources indicated that the Israelis' contact with delegates had been far less active and influential than at the first round of talks in Geneva last year.