NEW YORK (Aug. 30)
Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat is embarking on a diplomatic offensive that includes a heavy schedule of meetings with top European leaders and plans to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
Sources in Brussels disclosed Tuesday that Arafat will meet with top European Community officials during his visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Sept. 13. The visit will mark the first time the PLO leader has been received by the European parliamentary institution.
Arafat is scheduled to confer with Lord Plumb, a British conservative who is president of the European Parliament, and Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias, current chairman of the E.C. Council of Ministers.
PLO officials have circulated reports in recent weeks that Arafat also plans to address the U.N. General Assembly after the Palestine National Council discusses plans to declare an independent Palestinian state and set up a government in exile. The council is scheduled to meet in Algiers sometime in September.
Diplomats at U.N. headquarters in New York, however, said Tuesday that it is “premature” to talk about Arafat visiting the United Nations. They said U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar has not yet invited Arafat to address the General Assembly, which officially opens Sept. 20.
The two men met Saturday at U.N. headquarters in Geneva and were scheduled to meet again later this week to discuss a General Assembly appearance by the PLO leader.
One diplomat also pointed out that an Arafat address will depend on the outcome of the meeting in Algiers. “Without a mandate from the PNC, Arafat cannot come to New York,” the diplomat said.
PRESS CLUB INVITATION
Arafat also has been invited to address the National Press Club in Washington, which regularly holds “newsmaker” luncheons. He has never before appeared in the U.S. capital.
But it is unclear at this time whether the PLO leader would be allowed to enter the United States for the purpose of addressing either the General Assembly or the press club.
Under U.S. immigration laws, the U.S. government may bar individuals belonging to terrorist organizations from entering the United States. The government has used the provision on many occasions to prevent foreign officials from visiting the United Nations, a State Department source said in Washington.
“It has been United States policy, sanctioned by the Congress as recently as 1979, to deny visas to members of the PLO,” State Department spokesman Charles Redman said in 1986, when a U.N. visit by Arafat was being considered.
Even if Arafat is issued an entry visa, it will likely contain a restriction that bars him from traveling further than 25 miles from U.N. headquarters in New York. That would make it impossible for Arafat to address the press club.
U.S. Jewish groups have expressed disappointment in the press club invitation, which was issued Aug. 17.
David Brody, Washington representative of the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, said his group is “opposed to giving (Arafat) that kind of a platform.”
Warren Eisenberg, director of the International Council of B’nai B’rith, said he doubted that Arafat’s appearance could “advance the cause for peace,” because the PLO “still threatens to use terror.”
In Europe, meanwhile, Arafat’s upcoming visit to Strasbourg is being viewed as important, following recent diplomatic developments in the Middle East, particularly Jordan’s decision to cut all links to the West Bank.
According to sources in Brussels, Arafat may use the European Parliament appearance to make an important political announcement regarding the formation of a Palestinian state.
Arafat was invited to the European Parliament by the chairman of its Socialist Group, Rudi Arndt of West Germany. As a matter of principle, the parliament itself invites only heads of state to address the 518-member assembly, which represents 12 nations.
(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Yossi Lempkowicz in Brussels, Howard Rosenberg in Washington and Yitzhak Rabi at the United Nations.)