State Department Says There Are Legal Obstacles to Closing the PLO Observer Office at the UN

The State Department has informed the Workmen’s Circle that “there appear to be legal obstacles that would prevent the U.S. government from terminating the existence and operation of the PLO Observer Office to the United Nations.” That statement, by Hodding Carter, Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, was made in a letter replying to a complaint by the Jewish labor fraternal order protesting that the PLO office violated its status as a UN observer.

The Workmen’s Circle noted that PLO representatives here had criticized the sale of American warplanes to Israel at an open air rally and exhorted American taxpayers to advise their government to utilize such funds for other purposes.

Carter wrote that the State Department “is presently studying the status of the PLO Observer Office to the United Nations.” However, he said: “The United Nations Headquarters Agreement, to which the U.S. government is a party and which creates binding legal obligations upon the United States, grants certain rights and privileges to representatives and member states, to UN officials, and to observers invited to participate in UN work. Our current study of the Headquarters Agreement is designed to delineate the scope of those rights and privileges.”

STATE DEPARTMENT ASSERTION ASSAILED

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, meanwhile, attacked the assertion by a State Department official that the U.S. “does not consider the PLO a terrorist organization.” Rabbi Alexander Schindler, outgoing chairman of the Presidents Conference, said, in a cable from Jerusalem last week to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, that the group “cannot accept the ‘clarification’ issued by the State Department…which expressed the view that ‘only elements and members’ of the PLO ‘advocate and carry out acts of terrorism.’ “

The original statement was made by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs William Harrop in testimony before a subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on June 26. The clarification was made several days later by Alfred L. Atherton, Ambassador-at-Large to the Middle East, who appeared before the subcommittee on Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Atherton described the PLO as simply an “umbrella organization with many factions that are often divided by dissent and disagreement.”

Schindler’s cable said: “We challenge the Department of State to name any of the ‘elements and members’ of the PLO that do not use terror against innocent civilians in furtherance of the aim of destroying the Jewish State.”

On Friday, Hodding Carter issued a statement which, he said, superseded all previous characterizations of the PLO. He said the U.S. regarded EI Fatah as a terrorist organization and, by implication, its leader Yasir Arafat, as a terrorist. EI Fatah is the PLO’s military arm and is said to be its largest constituent. Carter’s statement did not designate the PLO as a whole as being a terrorist organization.

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