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Moffett Describes Congressional Delegation Visit to the Mideast

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Rep. Toby Moffett (D. Conn.) said today that he hoped Lebanon could be salvaged with the help of the U.S. but that “You can’t begin to put Lebanon together again until there is same solution to the Palestinian problem, at least addressing the Palestinian problem in a serious way.”

Moffett spoke at a press conference about his recent visit to the Middle East as the head of a Congressional delegation “to look at the situation in Lebanon in light of what has happened there in the last 5-6 years.” The group met with leaders of Israel and Syria as well as Lebanon and with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat.

Moffett stressed that the meeting with Arafat had been unscheduled and was not approved by House Speaker Thomas O’Neill (D. Mass.), who had authorized the visit, or by the State Department. But Moffett remarked, in the course of his press conference, “I have always thought the policy of not talking to the PLO is ill- advised.”

The delegation consisted of Moffett and Reps. Nick Joe Rahall (D. W. Va.) and Mary Rose Oakar (D. Ohio), all of whom are of Lebanese descent. They were accompanied by three other members of the House. Moffett indicated he would make a more detailed report on his mission to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance.

TWO-HOUR MEETING WITH ARAFAT

He said that in his group’s two-hour meeting with Arafat, “we were very adamant about violence and non-violence and trying to make him understand not only the obvious, terrible aspects of violence and terrorism but implications with regard to U.S. policy and the effect that has upon American politicians here and what stands they are willing to take.”

He said the group reminded Arafat that he had made a promise at an Arab summit meeting in Tunis that he would not launch raids on Israel from Lebanese soil. “We urged him to keep that promise and Arafat said ‘we will,” Moffett reported. He said the group also urged the PLO chief not to launch attacks on Israel from any other country and quoted Arafat as saying, “We don’t intend to.” Moffett added, however, “There are many people who are skeptical of these promises.”

He reported on exchange with Arafat on recognition of Israel. He said Arafat asked, “Which Israel do you want me to accept. 1948 Israel, 1967 Israel or 1973 Israel?” Moffett said, “Why don’t we start with 1967 Israel, “to which Arafat replied, according to the Congressman, “If I do that then they will throw me crumbs as in the Camp. David accords as far as Palestinian autonomy is concerned.” Moffett said his group met with Arafat at a secret headquarters to which they were escorted by armed guards.

Moffett said he favored expanding the area of Lebanon under the control of the United Nation Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) which would bring it to the Lebanese Israeli border thereby eliminating the Christian militia headed by Maj. Saad Hoddad. “The Israelis are somewhat skeptical if not paranoid about that plan, “he said, He said Israeli Defense Minister Ezer Weizman told him that Israel approved strengthening President Elias Sarkis and the Lebanese central government.

Moffett said he saw a contradiction in this “coming from the same people who are aiding Hadded” He said the Israelis arranged a meeting for him with Hadded which was also held in a secret place and which, like the one with Arafat, was not approved by O’Neill or the State Department. He said he did not want to confer any legitimacy on the Christian militia leader but thought it was important to meet with him. He said Weizman assured him, “If there are no terrorist attacks from Lebanon you won’t find us bombing.”

The group also visited the Golan Heights and the West Bank. Moffett said with respect to the former, “I don’t see any way Israel could give that back. Perhaps some international area can be made there. That might be a possibility.” He said he had warned Israelis that “their settlement policy (on the West Bank) is a disaster in terms of public relations in the U.S. ” He deplored the “total gap” between. West Bank intellectuals who he met and the Israelis. “They are not communicating with each other in any way,” he said.

Moffett emphasized that he was relating “tentative conclusions” gleaned from his mission and thought that some good was accomplished by it.

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