WASHINGTON (Jul. 29)
The State Department insisted today that U.S. contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization in Lebanon did not go beyond security arrangements and that there was no reciprocity on the part of the U.S. for PLO cooperation in safeguarding the security of Americans in west Beirut and the evacuation by sea Tuesday of 308 Americans and other foreign nationals.
Department spokesman Robert Funseth said “That is my understanding” when asked by a reporter if future U.S. contacts with the PLO would be limited to security matters. There are 15 Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Beirut and several hundred American citizens still in Lebanon.
The intense questioning by reporters today represented an attempt to clarify the circumstances under which the PLO agreed to provide the security safeguards but the State Department offered little information beyond what it provided earlier in the week. Funseth stressed that the U.S. position regarding the PLO and its non-recognition of Israel “stands.”
Yesterday, Funseth promised to supply reasons why the State Department had not disclosed direct contacts with the PLO prior to its acknowledgement Tuesday that they had been taking place for “some time.” specifically since June. He said that a senior U.S. officer had been in contact with the PLO since then. He identified the officer as a U.S. Foreign Service official. Funseth’s promise came after intense questioning from reporters who suggested, among other things, that there was official lying and that the Department owed the general public an apology for the direct contact with terrorist organizations.
PRESSED FOR INFORMATION
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency today pressed the State Department spokesman for information on whether there was anything in writing from U.S. officials to the PLO or from the PLO to the U.S. and whether the U.S. had made any commitments of any sort to the PLO for the cooperation it rendered. Funseth replied that there was no reciprocity on the part of the U.S. When it was noted that U.S. PLO contacts began in June but were disclosed by the State Department only this week, indicating that possible reciprocity of some kind may have been made without his knowledge, Funseth said “If I’m wrong I’ll get back to you,” indicating that he would check into the possibility.
SEE SOME ASSURANCES TO PLO
Some observers here believe that the PLO may have had some assurances from the U.S., implicit or otherwise direct or indirect, in return for which they agreed to cooperate in security measures for Americans in Lebanon.
These observers also believe that the U.S. PLO contacts disclosed officially this week represented an erosion of the American position that it would not deal with the PLO until the latter recognized Israel’s right to exist and accepted the framework of political settlement of the Middle East conflict contained in UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. According to the observers, the contacts could be the prelude toward change in the Middle. East negotiating picture.