VIENNA (Aug. 21)
Austrian Foreign Minister Erwin Lane said here Friday, one day after a three-hour meeting with the head of the PLO political department, that he hoped to meet soon with Israel’s Foreign Minister, Yitzhak Shamir.
He told a press conference that it would be “very interesting” to talk to Shamir and that he hoped “there will be a chance for a meeting during the forthcoming United Nations General Assembly in New York.”
Lane said that his talks with Farouk Kaddoumi, the PLO official, showed that the PLO still believes that an international conference on the Middle East would be the best way to continue the Mideast peace process but that he felt that “it would be better to start exploratory talks between the parties involved without any pre-conditions.”
Sources said that approach had been supported by Bruno Kreisky, who lost an absolute majority in the April 24 elections which led to his replacement as Chancellor by Fred Sinowatz, another Socialist.
NO APPARENT CHANGE IN AUSTRIA’S MIDEAST POLICY
Local newspapers speculated that the change in chancellors might cause a change in Austria’s Mideast policy, but Lanc, responding to questions, said Austria’s relations to Israel are not influenced by the likes and dislikes of one person but by differences over the Palestinian issue. Lanc, also a Socialist, was Interior Minister in Kreisky’s last Cabinet.
Kaddoumi said he had been “very thankful” that he had an opportunity to talk with Lanc about “aspects and prospects” of current developments in the Middle East. He made that comment to reporters after his meeting with Lanc, which had been arranged by Kreisky.
Government sources said the Lanc-Kaddoumi talks centered on the United Nations Conference on Palestine, opening in Geneva August 29, and on Kreisky’s efforts to bring about an exchange of prisoners in the Lebanese war.
Political commentators here suggested that Kaddoumi’s visit marked the beginning of a new diplomatic effort by the PLO to gain ground in Western Europe after the outbreak of bloody fighting within the PLO between foes and supporters of chairman Yasir Arafat.
Kaddoumi insisted, in an interview on Austrian Radio, that Arafat’s position within the PLO was “undisputed,” though he had to leave Syria earlier this year after the outbreak of internal PLO battles. “For the time being,” Kaddoumi added, Arafat cannot go to Damascus. Kaddoumi, considered a strong backer of the Soviet Union’s Mideast policy, continues to work undisturbed at the PLO headquarters in Damascus.
Kaddoumi said negotiations were continuing with the Syrian government “and I hope that Arafat will be allowed to enter” Syria soon. Arafat, who reportedly sought help from Syrian President Hafez Assad in his fight against rebellious elements in Al Fatah, the largest unit in the PLO, was expelled from Syria.