Move to Close PLO Office

Speculation has arisen that the Reagan Administration has decided to close the Palestine Liberation Organization’s information office here in a move that would preempt congressional action.

The State Department has denied a Washington Times story which reported last week that a decision to close the office had been made by Deputy Secretary of State John Whitehead. “That’s an action that is under consideration, but no decision has been made,” said State Department spokesman Charles Redman.

Congressional legislation to close the PLO office here along with its United Nations Observer Mission has attracted strong bipartisan support. A total of 49 Senators are co-sponsoring the bill introduced by Sens. Robert Dole (R. Kans.), Charles Grassley (R. Iowa), Frank Lautenberg (D.NJ) and Howard Metzenbaum (D. Ohio). An identical House version has been introduced by Reps. Jack Kemp (R. NY) and Dan Mica (D. Fla.).

The Administration has been divided on the issue. In testimony before a House subcommittee on July 29, Richard Murphy, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, said “the Administration has strong reservations” about closing both offices. He said closing the information center “raises constitutional questions” while the closing of the New York office “raises issues of international law and foreign policy.”

But in a letter to Kemp only two days later, Secretary of State George Shultz wrote that the Administration was considering closing the Washington office, but not the New York office.

Some Hill staffers say the Administration might use the decision to close the Washington office as “a bargaining chip” to satisfy supporters of the closing and prevent congressional action on the New York office.

In a response to Shultz, Kemp stressed his determination to persist with legislation until both offices were closed. However, another Capitol Hill staffer speculated that a move to close the Washington office might satisfy some co-sponsors.

News of the possible closing of the office prompted a press conference by The League of Arab States urging the Administration not to respond to the Congress’ “instant and mechanical” response to the Israeli lobby.

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