WASHINGTON (Oct. 29)
President Carter’s unqualified statement in last night’s debate with his Republican opponent Ronald Reagan that the Palestine Liberation Organization is a “terrorist organization” was upheld by the White House today but not by the State Department.
Another statement by the President that the United States has “a common defense capability” with Egypt and Israel was referred by the State Department to the White House for explanation. But the White House said it would offer comment later.
Both matters arose in questions by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at the State Department. Spokesman John Trattner was asked, since Carter had without qualification described the PLO as a terrorist organization would the Department repudiate a statement about the PLO it made Sept. 4.
On that date, the Department’s response when asked whether the PLO was a terrorist organization, was: “We view the PLO as an organization, elements and members of which advocate and carry out acts of terrorism. We condemn such acts and those organizations and individuals who perpetrate them.”
Saying the Department “stands on its previous statement,” Trattner said today that “is the U.S. government’s position. Okay? It is the President of the United States’ position. If he had time in last night’s debate to set out all of the nuances that that position contains, I know he would have. I think I know everybody interested in the question who heard him say that knows what he meant.”
When Trattner was asked whether he would repeat the President’s own statement, he refused. When he was pressed about the “ambiguity” of the Department’s position. Trattner said the President would have made the Department’s statement. Asked how he knows this, he replied “because the President thoroughly understands the foreign policy of which he is in change.”
Afterwards, JTA asked White House Deputy Press Secretary Ray Jenkins about the President’s statement and the State Department’s position. Jenkins replied, “Obviously he (the President) said what he said. We stand on what he said last night. It represents his position.”
Trattner also had been asked whether Carter believes that “alleged non-terrorist elements” of the PLO maintain the PLO office that operates in Washington. “I don’t know what the President believes,” he said. Then he added, “I’ll just ‘no comment’ that.”
Asked for the meaning and the arrangements that have been made with reference to the President’s statement on “common defense capability” which he mentioned in connection with efforts to maintain Middle East peace, Trattner said that the President “in a capsulated way” discussed the matter.
Trattner twice suggested to the reporters that the White House explain the President’s statement, but he said “my guess is” that the President was referring to the joint U.S. – Egyptian military exercises in Egypt and “obviously close and friendly relations with Israel over the years. That’s the way I explain that.”