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Begin and British Minister Express Differences on the PLO

Visiting British Minister of State at the Foreign Office Douglas Hurd told Israeli leaders this week that London had detected “an evolution” within the Palestine Liberation Organization and believed it ought to be tested and encouraged.

But Hurd apparently failed to persuade Premier Menachem Begin of the validity of this assessment. Begin, in a public statement, referred to the British view as “an optical illusion” and asserted that the PLO had not changed its aims or its methods.

Hurd told the press yesterday, at the end of his visit, that the “evolution” within the PLO was “towards a more political, more diplomatic approach.” He said the British government had “occasional contacts with the PLO on the level of officials and the odd social contact. But there are no substantive discussions at the ministerial level.”

(It was reported last week from London that Britain’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sir Ian Gilmour and PLO foreign minister Farouk. Koddumi met briefly Dec. 5 in what the Foreign Office described as an “unscheduled encounter” at the Syrian Embassy. It was the first acknowledged meeting between a British Cabinet Minister and such a senior PLO official. The Foreign Office said their talks were without substance and that the meeting did not mark any shift in Britain’s Mideast policy.)

NO CHANGE SEEN IN PLO’S VIEW

The “evolution,” Hurd noted, was “not complete. Not perfect. But such as it is, we welcome it. We think it is a step in the right direction.”

Public pronouncements by a PLO official in London recently, which had been repeated in private conversations, showed that the PLO still maintains the ultimate goal of a “secular democratic state” in Palestine. But, according to Hurd, it is prepared to accept a small state now in the West Bank and Gaza “and then to pursue the rest of its objectives by political means.”

The British Minister stressed that his government did not “endorse those objectives,” and he added that if he were an Israeli he would be “very cautious.” Hurd said Britain supported the Camp David process. He met here yesterday with U.S. special Mideast envoy Sol Linowitz for a briefing on the autonomy talks, and said afterwards he found him to be “realistic and impressive.”

MEETS WITH WEST BANK LEADERS

Hurd lunched at the British Consulate here with a number of West Bank leaders, whom he was not prepared to identify. He said he found them to have “a high sense of practical responsibility” and expected them to examine whatever agreement was reached by Israel, Egypt and the U.S. in the light of that “sense of practical responsibility.”

It is understood from reliable sources that Hurd was queried here about the impending major British tanks sale to Jordan–and he defended the sale on the grounds that supporting King Hussein was a way to contribute to regional stability. Britain, Hurd noted, was a traditional supplier of arms to Jordan.

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