Lebanon: France Pursues Diplomacy, Readies Military

THE flurry of diplomacy this week over Lebanon, initiated by France and the United Nations secretary-general, resulted in a UN Security Council declaration for an immediate cease-fire and renewed international support for Arab League mediation efforts. Just how much further France or anyone else will go to silence the guns of warring Lebanese factions remains a question.

France announced yesterday that it is sending the Foch, one of its two aircraft carriers, to reinforce the frigate Dusquesne. The frigate was to arrive today in the eastern Mediterranean, ready to ``offer safety to the French community'' in Lebanon. About 7,000 French live there, more than three-fourths of whom have dual nationality.

The French government's vaguely worded explanation for sending the frigate only slightly masked what appeared to be the vessel's ulterior purpose: to warn Syria that France intends to guarantee not just the safety of its nationals, but the existence of Lebanon as an independent nation.

By yesterday afternoon only a limited period of shelling had taken place between Christians and Syrian-backed Muslim and Druze factions who were described as observing a ``cease-fire of convenience.''

Seven days of continuous battle - the latest since Christian leader Michel Aoun declared a war of ``liberation'' aimed at expelling the 35,000-odd Syrian troops that occupy two-thirds of Lebanon - killed 141 people and wounded 525.

Further French efforts are more likely to be in the diplomatic realm than in improbable military action.

``We aren't there to start a war,'' Charles-Henri d'Aragon, a spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry, said yesterday. He emphasized that France's recent diplomatic initiatives, which the government already considers to have had tangible success, will be followed by ``new initiatives in the very near future.''

Yesterday the last of five emissaries sent around the world by French President Fran,cois Mitterrand returned from Moscow. Others had been sent to the UN in New York, the Vatican, the Middle East, and North Africa. And junior minister Alain Decaux was due in Beirut yesterday to pursue France's intense diplomatic campaign to stop the fighting in the Lebanese capital.

France's diplomatic initiative aims to preserve the independence and territorial integrity of Lebanon, a country to which it has long historical ties. But it is also an opportunity for the French to play an international role that matches their ambitions.

France may be a secondary military power, but with an internationalist leader in President Mitterrand, and with an undiluted sense of their place in the world, the French intend to continue making their presence felt.

That intention is now seen in what Le Monde called rather proudly the ``French obstinancy'' in promoting peace in Lebanon.

French ties to Lebanon date back to the the Crusades. Much more recently, it was under French mandate - and despite Syrian opposition - that Lebanon received its status as an independent country in 1943. The French have considered themselves the protectors specifically of the country's Christian community, but more largely of Lebanon's survival as an independent state, ever since.

The French government has attempted to project a disinterested position among the various Lebanese parties even as it pursues its diplomatic initiatives. It has refrained from condemning Syria by name, as other world leaders have, and was satisfied with a UN Security Council resolution that did not name Syria. But Druze leader Walid Jumblatt has denounced French involvement as designed to help Lebanon's Christians.

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