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Begin Rejects Rumanian Proposal That Israel Meet with the PLO

Premier Menachem Begin told the Cabinet yesterday that he rejected a Rumanian proposal that Israel meet with the Palestine Liberation Organization. He said his rejection came during a private 90-minute meeting in his office last Friday with Vasile Pungun, a special representative of Rumanian President Nicolae Ceausescu.

Begin briefed the Cabinet on the meeting in which Pungun reported on Ceausescu’s recent talks with PLO chief Yasir Arafat and Syrian President Hafez Assad. But he refused to provide his fellow Ministers with details. The meeting was supposed to be secret but had been leaked to the press. Both Foreign Ministry and Defense Ministry officials, as well as the Prime Minister’s Office knew of the meeting beforehand.

In rejecting talks with the PLO, Begin repeated Israel’s position that it would not meet with an organization dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Begin said the proposed talks had been discussed in general and no specific date or place was mentioned.

CHANCES SLIM FOR MEETING WITH ASSAD

While Israel will not meet with the PLO Dr. Eliyahu Ben-Elissar, director general of the Prime Minster’s Office, stressed to the press after the Cabinet meeting that Israel was always ready to talk to the Syrian President. “Premier Begin has invited Syrian President Assad to meet with him a number of times,” he said. “There is no doubt that he would be willing to meet with him now. But such a readiness in not related to the arrival of this envoy or any other.

But Begin said today there was not much chance of a meeting with Assad. He told the visiting members of the Council of Europe’s Political Subcommittee on the Middle East, that after speaking with Pungun “I don’t think there is any change in the attitude of Syria toward Israel.” Begin said that Rumania and Israel still remain friends despite their differences over the establishment of a Palestinian state and the recognition of the PLO.

Ben-Elissor noted yesterday the meeting between Begin and Pungun was significant itself since it was between two friendly countries. He said Ceausescu’s “contributions to the (Mideast) peace process is well known, despite the fact that we do not always agree with all the Rumanian positions. But it is nonetheless important that such clarification of issues take place without a mediator.”

There was much speculation in Israel over the weekend about the meeting between Begin and Pungun. A former chief counselor to the Rumanian President, Pungun is credited by both Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat for playing a major role in enabling Sadat to open his peace initiative in 1977.

There were reports that Pungun told Begin that Assad was ready for a settlement with Israel if Israel left the Golan Heights and that Arafat had expressed moderation if changes were made in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242.

Begin reportedly criticized Rumanian policy in the Middle East which he said was “in the past more balanced.” He said statements made by Ceausescu after his meetings with Assad and Arafat made it appear he was supporting the Arab rejectionist front. Meanwhile, Jerusalem officials denied that a planned visit to Bucharest by Tel Aviv municipal officials was called off last week because Israel wanted to display its annoyance with Bucharest.

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