State Department Murky on Matter of U.S. Contacts with the PLO

The State Department discussed at some length today, but without offering any clear answer, the matter of U.S. contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). At this morning’s briefing for newsmen, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency asked whether the U.S. and the PLO were edging toward high level talks on the Palestinian problem and its place in the Middle East settlement proceedings.

The question was prompted by press reports today in New York and Beirut. The New York report said PLO sources close to Cairo had stated that the PLO was ready to talk to U.S. officials on the Palestinian question on condition that the discussions were publicly announced. In Beirut, an unidentified PLO spokesman was said to have denied that the organization was prepared to negotiate with the U.S. or that it has had any contacts with the Americans.

Some sources here said that both reports, while manifestly contradictory, actually were accurate inasmuch as the Cairo version is unofficial and a “trial balloon,” while the Beirut report is correct since no discussions have taken place as yet. In his response to the question, State Department spokesman, John King, referred specifically to the Beirut report, implying that he agreed with the denial by the anonymous PLO spokesman there. King added, however, that as “part of any Middle East settlement, the interests of the Palestinians must be taken into account.”

He declined to discuss specific details and issues in a settlement procedure in the Middle East. But he confirmed that low level contacts have taken place between the U.S. and the PLO. He also said that he would neither “rule out” nor “rule in” possible future U.S.-PLO talks.

King’s remarks seemed to contradict the Beirut report of no contacts which he had earlier given some credence. But they confirmed what a senior State Department official told a group of newsmen here two months ago, namely that the U.S. would be willing to hold high level talks with the Palestinians. When reminded of that today, State Department sources said they had no information to alter that official’s position.

In New York, a United Nations spokesman said today that there has been no request by any Arab states, singly or jointly, for inclusion of the Palestinian question as a separate item on the agenda of the fall session of the General Assembly scheduled to open Sept. 17. The spokesman added that the UN was aware of reports from Cairo that the Arab League had agreed that such a request should be made.

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