State Department Evasive on Arafat-hussein Meeting

The State Department refused to make any direct comment today on the meetings in Amman between King Hussein of Jordan and Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat, even as to whether they advanced or hindered President Reagan’s peace initiative.

Department deputy spokesman Alan Romberg would not even say whether the U.S. though the meetings were “necessary” for Jordan to be able to negotiate for the Palestinians in the autonomy talks on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as Reagan has urged. However, he conceded that for Jordan to enter the negotiations, it needed “sufficient support from other Arabs and the Palestinians.”

Romberg took a more general tone, noting that the U.S. felt it was “important that the procedures, talks move forward” and that Jordan was an important participant in these talks.

According to reports from Amman, Hussein asked Arafat to allow Jordan to represent the Palestinians in the autonomy negotiations but no such permission was given. In fact, as the talks began, Syria’s Minister of Information, Ahmed Iskandar Ahmed, said in an interview that Arafat had no authority to speak for the PLO since the Palestine National Council has not acted on the Reagan initiative.

Arafat reportedly said he might consider a West Bank-Gaza federation with Jordan, as Reagan has proposed, but only after a Palestinian state was established. While Romberg was not asked directly about this, he was asked today about reports that Arafat said changes were needed in Reagan’s proposals if the PLO were to accept them.

WAITING FOR ARAB LEAGUE DELEGATION

Romberg replied that the position outlined by President Reagan for his “fresh start” in the Middle East is the “position the President is prepared to support in the talks and the important thing we think now is to move ahead for such talks.”

The Reagan Administration is apparently waiting for an Arab League delegation to meet here with President Reagan October 22 to see whether Jordan will get an Arab mandate to represent the Palestinians in the autonomy negotiations. Jordan did not get such a mandate at the Arab League’s summit conference in Fez, Morocco last month.

The delegation to Washington will be headed by the Arab League’s chairman, King Hassan of Morocco, and will include the Foreign Ministers of Syria, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia.

Reagan’s initiative will also presumably be discussed when Israel’s Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir meets with Secretary of State George Shultz in Washington this Thursday. However, their agenda may be dominated by discussion of the withdrawal of Israeli, Syrian and PLO forces from Lebanon.

The Lebanese situation will also be discussed here when President Amin Gemayel of Lebanon comes to Washington October 19.

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