U.S. Denies Vernon Walters Met with PLO Leader in Tunisia

A report that the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations met in Tunisia last Saturday with a senior leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization was denied Wednesday by the envoy, Vernon Walters, as well as the State Department and the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.

CBS News reported Tuesday night that Walters met a PLO leader in a private home in a coastal town near Tunis, the Tunisian capital. CBS attributed the information to top PLO officials.

Walters, arriving in Geneva Wednesday to address the U.N. Human Rights Commission, categorically denied the alleged meeting. “I deny it, it is a lie. I have not met a PLO representative in Tunis. I am not authorized to speak with the PLO,” Walters said in response to questions by reporters here.

He added: “It’s absolute nonsense. I never saw anybody in Tunisia but Tunisians and Americans. No Palestinians.”

A woman who answered the telephone Wednesday at the PLO observer mission at the United Nations said no one was available to comment on the report.

In Washington, Charles Redman, a spokesman for the State Department, said the CBS report “is a complete fabrication. Somebody’s been had.”

A spokeswoman at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations here, Helene Mahoney, said that the report is “absolutely not true,” and that the alleged meeting “did not happen.”

The U.S. assured Israel in September 1975 that U.S. government officials would not meet or negotiate with members of the PLO. However, Andrew Young, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, held a 15-minute meeting with a PLO official in New York in 1979. He subsequently resigned under pressure.

Walters conceded to reporters that CBS was accurate in reporting that he met in the 1970s with PLO representatives. “The report was correct in saying I spoke to them (the PLO) in 1975. They were killing Americans and I was sent to tell them to stop and they did. But that was 13 years ago,” the 71-year-old Walters, who speaks fluent Arabic, said.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organization, said in an interview that “We accept Walter’s assurances that he did not meet with the PLO and we wait for further clarifications.”

(JTA correspondents Tamar Levy in Geneva and Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

NEXT STORY