WASHINGTON (May. 10)
The United States has warned Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat, through unnamed Arab countries, not to retaliate against U.S. civilians or facilities for last month’s political assassination of PLO military leader Abu Jihad, a senior Reagan administration official confirmed Tuesday.
Richard Murphy, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, acknowledged that such a warning was relayed to the PLO leader by “some friendly Arab governments with whom we had good close relations.”
But Murphy disputed a claim by Arafat that the warning contained “threats to assassinate PLO leaders.”
Abu Jihad, whose real name was Khalil al-Wazir, was gunned down April 16 at his villa in suburban Tunis. Israeli commandos are widely believed to be responsible for the attack, but the Israeli government has neither confirmed nor denied this.
The U.S. official spoke in response to a question asked by Rep. Larry Smith (D-Fla.) at a joint hearing of two House Foreign Affairs subcommittees, one on Europe and the Middle East, and the other on Arms Control, International Security and Science.
Smith asked Murphy if the United States had sent a document to Arafat, which the PLO leader read aloud Tuesday at a news conference in Baghdad.
Smith quoted the document forwarded to Arafat as saying: “It has come to our attention that the PLO leader, Yasir Arafat, may have personally approved a series of terrorist attacks against American citizens and facilities abroad, possibly in retaliation for last month’s assassination of Abu Jihad.
“Any possible targeting of American personal and facilities in retaliation for Abu Jihad’s assassination would be totally reprehensible and unjustified. We would hold the PLO responsible for any such attacks.”
Murphy said such concerns were expressed to “some friendly Arab governments with whom we had good close relations and discussed the problem, and what you have is those discussions relayed to the PLO with Arafat going public at the end of the day.”
FOCUS ON SAUDI ARMS SALE
Tuesday’s hearing was otherwise devoted to the Reagan administration’s latest proposed arms sale to Saudi Arabia. The administration formally notified Congress on April 26 of plans to sell the Saudis $825 million of support equipment for AWACS surveillance planes, as well as 200 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and TOW-II rockets.
Smith, who would lead any House effort to block the proposed sale by the May 26 deadline, sparred repeatedly with Murphy. A congressional source said that Smith has drafted a resolution to block the sale, but has not yet decided whether to introduce it. Murphy defended the proposed U.S. sale as being in the national security interest while not posing “an offensive threat” to other countries. The weapons, as well as support equipment for AWACS already possessed by the Saudis, are designed to help the Saudis ensure freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf, he said.
He said when Congress has previously rejected proposed weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, the Kingdom has turned to other countries to buy more powerful weapons.
Members of Congress also questioned Murphy and Edward Gnehm, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs, on Saudi Arabia’s initial attempt to conceal from the United States its purchase of medium-range missiles from China, which have the potential to carry nuclear warheads.
Murphy noted that King Fahd has assured the Reagan administration the missiles won’t be used for nuclear purposes. And he praised Saudi Arabia for agreeing in April to sign the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which Israel has not done, he pointed out.
But the assistant secretary conceded that the United States has not been granted permission by Saudi Arabia to inspect the weapons to make sure they are not being equipped with nuclear warheads.
Murphy went so far as to praise Saudi Arabia for being “supportive” of the Arab-Israeli peace process, a contention Smith challenged.