LONDON (Dec. 15)
Sir John Graham, the British Foreign Office official in charge of the Middle East, had a secret meeting this month in Beirut with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat, as part of Britain’s move for closer ties with the PLO. Strenuous efforts were taken to keep the meeting secret. A British journalist claims that on the day the meeting took place, he was told that Sir John was visiting south Lebanon.
Sir John and Arafat met Dec. 2. Sir John, a Deputy Under-Secretary, is the most senior Foreign Office man to have officially met with Arafat. Last night the Foreign Office said the encounter did not signify a change in Britain’s general Middle East policy on in its attitude to the PLO.
The Israeli Embassy today said that it was awaiting instructions from Jerusalem on whether to protest to the Foreign Office. Israeli officials, meanwhile, described the Beirut meeting as “deeply disappointing and very unhelpful” to Middle East peace prospects
The Beirut meeting was also attended by Ben Strachan, the British Ambassador to Lebanon, and by PLO Foreign Minister Farouk Koddouni. The Foreign Office said that Sir John was on a “familiarization visit” to the area and also visited Jordan, Syria and the West Bank.
MEETING REFLECTS BRITAIN’S COMMITMENT TO EEC
The meeting reflects Britain’s commitment to the European Economic Community’s Venice declaration of last June that the PLO must be associated with further Mideast peace negotiations. Next month, Foreign Secretary Lord Carrington will hold important talks on the EEC initiative when he pays official visits to Egypt and Morocco.
Morocco is sympathetic to the Egypt-Israel peace agreement and Carrington’s visit to these two moderate Arab countries is probably intended to show that the British and European peace moves supplement rather than contradict, the Camp David peace framework.
The Carrington tour, coinciding with the change in administration in Washington, will also portray the clarity of Europe’s Middle East approach at a time of uncertainty about President-elect Reagan’s policy.