Justice Department Orders PLO to Close U.N. Observer Mission

Attorney General Edwin Meese III has ordered the Palestine Liberation Organization’s observer mission at the United Nations to close by March 21 or the Justice Department will seek a court injunction to force it do so.

Meese, acting in compliance with legislation adopted by Congress, sent a hand-delivered, written order Friday to Zehdi Terzi, the PLO representative at the United Nations.

The decision was announced late Friday by Charles Cooper, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar was informed of the decision earlier in the day, in a letter from Herbert Okun, acting U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations.

“Congress clearly and unambiguously stated its intent,” Cooper said in making the announcement.

The Reagan administration decided to comply with the congressional mandate at a Feb. 26 White House meeting, chaired by President Reagan’s national security adviser, Lt. Col. Colin Powell, a well-placed Capitol Hill source told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

At that meeting, aides to Secretary of State George Shultz reportedly gained assurances that the announcement would not be made until after Shultz returned from the Middle East, so as not to conflict with his diplomatic mission there.

The announcement comes a week after the U.N. General Assembly voted 143-1 to condemn any closing of the mission as a violation of the 1947 U.N. Headquarters Agreement. The assembly called for international arbitration of the issue by a three-member tribunal.

U.S. OPPOSES ARBITRATION

But Cooper stressed Friday that the United States will not agree to international arbitration of the dispute, since “international law has been superseded by the statute” Congress adopted.

He explained that Congress has the power to “abrogate” international law for the benefit of enforcing domestic law.

Okun’s letter to secretary general also stressed that “submission of this matter to arbitration would not serve a useful purpose.”

The controversy surrounding the PLO mission stems from the State Department’s 1988 authorization bill, adopted by Congress and signed by Reagan Dec. 22, which orders the mission closed by March 21.

Last fall, in an attempt to head off congressional moves, the State Department ordered the PLO’s Washington information office closed. But it has opposed closing the U.N. mission, because of possible U.S. obligations under the 1947 treaty.

That treaty provides protection for free entry and transit of foreign officials to the United Nations, but the treaty’s reservations clause allows the United States to control the flow of “aliens” into this country.

In enforcing the congressional decision, the Justice Department reportedly rejected the view of the State Department that when Congress approved the measure, it was not aware of any possible violation of the 1947 treaty and that since it was unaware, Congress did not willfully intend to disregard international obligations.

According to JTA sources, Justice Department representatives retorted that Congress was well aware of the 1947 treaty, since Shultz referred to it in letters to key lawmakers.

In addition, the Justice Department concluded that no part of the agreement required the United States to allow missions for non-member states, and that the 13-year existence of the PLO’s U.N. mission was merely a “courtesy” bestowed by the U.S. government.

(United Nations correspondent Yitzhak Rabi contributed to this report.)

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