WASHINGTON (Dec. 14)
The United States is prepared for the first time to open a “substantive dialogue” with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, Secretary of State George Shultz announced here Wednesday evening.
At a State Department news conference, Shultz said he was designating the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau Jr., as the “only authorized channel” to conduct negotiations with PLO representatives.
He said that the first item on the agenda of the U.S. talks with the PLO would be to make it clear that “the renunciation of terrorism is central” to efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.
The secretary’s announcement reflects a major shift in U.S. policy, which since 1975 has been to avoid direct dialogue with the PLO.
Explaining his decision, the secretary of state said the PLO had met all of the longstanding U.S. conditions for dialogue. He said that the PLO had issued a statement Wednesday “in which it accepted U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, recognized Israel’s right to exist in peace and security, and renounced terrorism.”
Shultz stressed that the objective of the U.S. decision “remains, as always, a comprehensive peace in the Middle East.In that light, I view this development as one more step toward the beginning of direct negotiations between the parties which alone can lead to such a peace.”
NO RECOGNITION OF PLO STATE
But the secretary was careful to note that the United States does not recognize the independent Palestinian state declared at the recent meeting of the Palestine National Council in Algiers.
“The position of the U.S. is that the status of the West Bank and Gaza cannot be determined by unilateral acts of either side, but only through a process of negotiations,” he said.
Shultz also emphasized that “the United States’ commitment to the security of Israel remains unflinching.”
On Tuesday, Shultz rejected the speech made by PLO leader Yasir Arafat at the U.N. General Assembly session in Geneva as not meeting the U.S. conditions for dialogue, saying his statements were still unclear and ambiguous.
At his news conference Wednesday evening, the secretary said he had not changed his policy. The change, he said, was that the PLO had now made its stand clear.
Israel’s ambassador to Washington expressed dismay with the U.S. move moments after Shultz finished speaking. “Obviously, we’re disappointed with the decision,” he said in a live interview on ABC-TV’s “World News Tonight” program.
“We don’t feel this will advance the peace process,” Arad said. “We do not recognize the PLO as a viable partner for negotiations.”
But a top American Jewish leader refrained from criticizing the U.S. move.
“Secretary Shultz is a man of honor and integrity, and I have no desire nor intention to engage in criticisms of the secretary,” Morris Abram, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said in a statement released in New York.
“I believe that he will continue to act as one who understands deeply the importance of the U.S.-Israel alliance, and who will instruct the American representative who meets with the PLO to make very clear the U.S. insistence that the PLO charter must be revoked.”
Abram said the “first piece of business” of the U.S. talks with the PLO in Tunisia should be to “demand that Yasir Arafat translate his words into deeds through repeal of the Palestine National Covenant, which calls for the destruction of Israel.”
“Unless and until the covenant is repealed,” said Abram, “Arafat is only mouthing words, not taking actions.”