WASHINGTON (Jul. 21)
The Reagan Administration indicated today that it could accept an Arab plan to move the some 6,000 Palestine Liberation Organization terrorists in west Beirut to a temporary location in northern Lebanon before they are taken to other Arab countries.
State Department spokesman Dean Fischer refused to comment today on the proposal discussed at the White House meeting yesterday between President Reagan and Foreign Minister Prince Saud of Saudi Arabia and Syrian Foreign Minister Abdel Holim Khaddam.
But Fischer noted that “what we have tried to do is make a distinction between the immediate problem in west Beirut and the longer term problem of the future of Lebanon. ” He said that the U.S. has made made clear it wants “all foreign elements” to leave Lebanon and, when pressed, said this included Israel, Syria and the PLO.
However, he said it would serve no purpose “to be more precise” in view of the “sensitive negotiations” now going on in Beirut under the direction of Reagan’s special envoy Philip Habib. Soud also said yesterday that he did not want to give any details which might “prejudice” the issue before he and Khaddam could report to the Arab League. The two ministers came to Washington as representatives of the Arab League.
NEW ELEMENT OF ‘POSSIBLE MOVEMENT’ CITED
A senior Administration official also refused to give any details yesterday in briefing reporters on the meeting the two Arab officials had with Reagan yesterday and with Secretary of State George Shultz on Monday. But he said that “new ideas” have been made by the Arab officials which provide “a new element of possible movement in the near future in the right direction.”
The Arab proposal, which reportedly provides that while the armed PLO is moved to northern Lebanon to Tripoli, their leaders will leave the country, is believed by observers here to be unacceptable to Israel.
Fischer repeated today that the U.S. hopes the Arab world will continue to help solve the problem. Saud said yesterday that the PLO has agreed in principle to leave Lebanon and that Arab countries would welcome them. But most Arab countries do not look with relish at the prospects of having 6,000 armed terrorists arrive in their country. There are indications that the PLO group would be split up among such countries as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Algeria and North Yemen.
Saud made it clear that while he believes the U.S. is sincere in trying to avoid an Israeli attack on west Beirut and in demanding that Israel leave Lebanon, there has yet not been any clarification in “practical terms” how the effort to achieve this will be implemented.
At the same time, Saud denied that he made any threat at the White House of Arab economic retaliation against the U.S. if the Israeli army attacks west Beirut. Sen. Charles Percy (R. III.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, after meeting with Saud on Monday said that such a move was possible.
DENIES U.S. MOVING TOWARD TALKS WITH PLO
Meanwhile, Fischer rejected reports from Beirut that the U.S. is moving closer to negotiating with the PLO because of the statements by some PLO officials that it is willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist. “Our position on the PLO… remains unchanged,” he said.
Fischer said that before the U.S. negotiates or recognizes the PLO it must meet the American conditions “clearly and unequivocally.” And he added, “In our view they have not been.”
The conditions are recognition of Israel’s right to exist and acceptance of UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338. Fischer would not say how the PLO should indicate to the U.S. if it was willing to meet these conditions. “They understand our position very well,” he said. At the same time, Fischer said the U.S. rejects any changes in 242. The PLO has said it cannot accept the resolution or 338 because it does not mention the Palestinians.
U.S. OFFICIAL MEETS ‘INADVERTANTLY’ WITH PLO OFFICIAL
In another development, the State Department admitted that a U.S. official had met “inadvertantly” with a PLO official, Hatam Husseini, director of the Palestine information office in Washington. Fischer stressed that the meeting at the State Department did not imply any change in U.S. policy toward the PLO. Husseini revealed that he had met with an Administration official during an appearance last night on ABC-TV’s “Nightline” program.
Fischer explained that Husseini accompanied Fahd Kawasma, former mayor of Hebron, and Mohammed Milhem, former mayor of Halhul, when they met with Elliott Abrams, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights. He said that the Department official who admitted Husseini did not know him and thought he was part of the travelling party accompanying the two former mayors. But they learned of his identity before the two former Arab officials were to meet with Nicholas Veliotes, Assistant Secretary of State of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, and he was barred from that meeting.
Fischer said that the Palestine Information Office, which opened in 1978, is registered with the Justice Department as a foreign agent for the PLO. He said as long as it complies with all U.S. laws and is directed by a U.S. citizen, or a legally resident alien, it can operate. Husseini is believed to be a naturalized U.S. citizen.
On another matter, Fischer said he did not know under what conditions Khaled Hassan, a close associate of PLO chief Yasir Arafat, entered the country. Hassan accompanied the Syrian Foreign Minister, here, although he was not allowed to attend any of the meetings at the White House or the State Department and is reportedly staying on a few days in Washington although the two Foreign Ministers have returned to the Middle East. There have been reports that he entered either as a PLO delegate to the UN or carrying a diplomatic passport from an Arab country.