U.S. Implies It is in Direct Contact with the PLO in Its Effort to Evacuate Americans from Lebanon

The State Department has strongly implied that it is in direct contact with the Palestine Liberation Organization in the U.S. effort to evacuate remaining Americans from Lebanon. “It is recognized that the PLO is obviously an important element in maintaining security in West Beirut,” Department spokesman Frederick Brown said Friday. “Any arrangements relating to security necessarily involves them.”

Brown called newsmen together in a special news conference after he had said conflict in the day at his regular briefing that the U.S. is “not in direct contact with the PLO.” He had also specifically excluded any element of the PLO while saying that the U.S. was “in contact with the parties concerned” in the Lebanese situation.

Brown said, in making his special announcement, that U.S. policy is not changed by his statement. The United States position is that it will not deal with the PLO as long as it insists on its policy of refusing to recognize Israel’s sovereignty as an independent state.

The PLO matter arose when newsmen questioned Brown on why the evacuation that had been scheduled for last Tuesday continued to be delayed and the report by columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak that the PLO “is under high-level suspicion here of fabricating its warning that it could not guarantee safe evacuation this week of U.S. diplomats from Beirut in order to turn them into virtual hostages.”

The columnists said that PLO Chief Yassir Arafat wants “serious U.S. pressure on Syrian President Hafez Assad to withdraw from Lebanon leaving the PLO intact to negotiate a political settlement with other major factions in the civil war.”

DAILY EXCHANGES WITH PARTIES CONCERNED

The U.S. a week ago drastically reduced its embassy staff in Beirut to a dozen persons and asked all of the remaining American citizens in Lebanon, about 1,000, including those with dual citizenship, to leave last Tuesday from Beirut in a convoy to Damascus. The embassy had warned that it could no longer protect American lives in Lebanon.

Safe passage for the convoy has not been obtained, however, the U.S. is now planning an evacuation by air and sea this week. Brown had declined to discuss what he said were “daily exchanges” taking place with “the parties concerned in Lebanon.” Brown acknowledged that sections of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean are close to Lebanon which, he said, would be normal in situations like this.

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