Court Rules U.S. Cannot Close PLO Observer Mission to U.N.

A federal judge said here Wednesday that the United States cannot close the Palestine Liberation Organization’s observer mission to the United Nations.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Edmund Palmieri was a setback to the efforts by the Justice Department to shut down the PLO mission.

U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese ordered the office closed by March 21 under the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act, which was adopted by Congress late last year and signed by President Reagan on Dec. 22.

The PLO ignored the order and the Justice Department promptly sued in U.S. District Court to have the order enforced.

Steven Obus, chief of the civil division of the U.S. District Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, had no comment late Wednesday on the ruling.

He told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, however, that District Attorney Rudolph Giuliani was studying it and would consult with the Justice Department before deciding whether to appeal.

The Justice Department has 60 days to appeal. The process would take the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals and eventually to the Supreme Court.

Judge Palmieri found that the 1947 Headquarters Agreement establishing U.N. headquarters in New York “leaves no doubt” that the United States is obligated “to refrain from impairing the function” of the PLO mission.

The judge also said that the legislative history of the Anti-Terrorism Act does “not manifest Congress’ intent to abrogate this obligation.”

OTHER RESTRICTIONS APPROPRIATE

He concluded that the Anti-Terrorism Act does not supersede the Headquarters Agreement, although restrictions on PLO activity within the United States are appropriate, aside from application to the U.N. mission.

Under the Anti-Terrorism Act, the United States also closed down the PLO’s information office in Washington last year.

Wednesday’s court ruling is the second legal setback in the case for the United States. On April 27, the International Court of Justice at The Hague issued a unanimous ruling that the United States must submit to arbitration over its order to shut down the PLO mission. The Reagan administration did not comply.

The World Court acted on petition of the United Nations, which contended that the Justice Department’s closure order was in violation of the Headquarters Agreement.

U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar issued a short statement Wednesday saying he was “gratified” by Judge Palmieri’s ruling, which “demonstrates the respect of the United States court for the international obligation of the country.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations said only, “We have been informed and are studying the written text and consulting the Justice Department on this issue.”

No representatives of the Israeli Mission to the United Nations or the Israeli Consulate General in New York could be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon. Zehdi Terzi, the PLO’s representative to the United Nations, also was unavailable for comment.

(Reporters Andrew Silow Carroll in New York and Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this story.)

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