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Radio Address to the Nation on the Situation in Lebanon

December 10, 1983

My fellow Americans:

I'd like to talk to you today about the deep desire we all share to bring peace to Lebanon.

These past several weeks have brought bitter tragedy and sorrow to all of us. The loss of even one of our splendid young Americans is an enormous price to pay. The number of dead and wounded is a terrible burden of grief for all Americans. It's un-imaginably more so for the families who have lost a father, husband, a son, or a brother. Their deaths are testimony to the savage hatreds and greedy ambitions which have claimed so many innocent Lebanese lives.

The human toll in Lebanon is staggering. Lebanon's losses since 1975 would be comparable to the United States losing 10 million of its citizens. What conceivable reason can there be for this wanton death and destruction?

Lebanon's suffering began long before a single marine arrived. In the early 1970's many thousands of Palestinians entered Lebanon. Lebanon's fragile political consensus collapsed, and a savage civil war broke out.

The Palestinians also had a military, the armed PLO. Trained in terrorist tactics by Soviet-bloc nations and Libya, the PLO joined the civil war and attacked Israeli targets, villages and schools across the border between Lebanon and Israel.

In the midst of all this, Syria was asked to intervene and stop the civil war. In the process, it occupied a large part of Lebanon. However, Syria did nothing to control terrorism against Israel's northern border. Israel decided to neutralize the PLO and, in June 1982, mounted a full-scale invasion across the border. This resulted in another major round of fighting between Syria, the PLO, and Israel. Shelling and bombing pounded Beirut. Thousands more died.

We negotiated a cease-fire and then joined the multinational force at the request of the Lebanese Government to make possible the peaceful separation of the forces. This is the second time in 25 years that we have come to support the Lebanese Government in restoring peace.

In 1958 President Eisenhower used a bipartisan congressional resolution to send 8,000 American soldiers and marines to Lebanon. When order was restored, our military came home. But in 1958 there were no occupying foreign armies, and there was no Soviet presence in Syria. Today, there are more than 7,000 Soviet military advisers and technicians.

In September 1982 I offered a plan to bring peace to the region. It called for a just solution to the Palestinian problem as well as a reasonable settlement of issues between the Arab States and Israel.

Success in Lebanon is central to sustaining the broader peace process. We have vital interests in the Middle East which depend on peace and stability in that region. Indeed, the entire world has vital interests there. The region is central to the economic vitality of the Western World. If we fail in Lebanon, what happens to the prospects for peace, not just in Lebanon but between Israel and her neighbors and in the entire Middle East?

Once internal stability is established and withdrawal of all foreign forces is assured, the marines will leave. But because we care about human values for ourselves, so must we be concerned when freedom, justice, and liberty are abused elsewhere. That's the moral basis which brought our marines to Lebanon.

We have acted with great restraint despite repeated provocations and murderous attacks. Our reconnaissance flights have only one purpose, and the Syrians know it: to give the greatest possible protection to our troops. We will continue to do whatever is needed to ensure the safety of our forces and our reconnaissance flights.

The peace process is slow and painful, but there is progress which would not have been possible without the multinational force. Last May with our help the Governments of Lebanon and Israel negotiated an agreement providing for the withdrawal of Israeli forces. In September when the Israelis pulled back their forces from the Shuf Mountains near Beirut, Lebanese attempts to extend their authority into this area were met by violent opposition from forces supported by Syria. We will redouble our diplomatic efforts to promote reconciliation and achieve withdrawal of all foreign forces.

At a recent meeting in Geneva all the Lebanese parties agreed to recognize the present government as the legitimate representative of the Lebanese people. Talks have begun to broaden the base of the government and to satisfy the legitimate grievances of all the people.

My special envoy, Ambassador Don Rumsfeld, has returned to the region and will continue trying to move the peace process forward on all fronts. Lebanon's agony must end.

Today is the 35th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Lebanese people are struggling for their human rights. We call upon everyone involved to give that birthright back to the Lebanese.

Until next week, thanks for listening, and God bless you.

Note: The President spoke at 12:06 p.m. from Camp David, Md.