WASHINGTON (Jan. 18)
The government said Wednesday it considers a New Year’s Day statement by Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasir Arafat to be a threat against Palestinians who seek reconciliation with Israel.
But State Department spokesman Charles Redman left unclear whether the United States believes that the threat was specifically aimed at the life of Mayor Elias Freij of Bethlehem.
Redman said the State Department has obtained a tape of Arafat’s Jan. 1 speech to Palestinians in Saudi Arabia.
He quoted the PLO leader as saying: “Whoever thinks of stopping the intifada before it achieves its goals, I will give him 10 bullets in the chest.”
The United States has made it clear to Arafat that “this threat is inconsistent with Arafat’s Dec. 14 renunciation of terrorism” and the subsequent U.S. decision to open a dialogue with the PLO, Redman said.
But, he added, Arafat denies he intended any threat against Freij.
The West Bank mayor told an Israeli newspaper in late December that he supported a United Nations-supervised truce for the territories. But Freij withdrew his proposal Jan. 3, on the grounds that the PLO was opposed.
Israeli officials immediately charged that Arafat’s remarks were a thinly veiled threat against Freij.
Secretary of State George Shultz also said at the time that if Arafat’s remarks were quoted accurately, then it fit “very badly” with his renunciation of terrorism.
Redman said Wednesday that the tape proved that the “secretary’s remarks were accurate.”
He also maintained Wednesday that the State Department has not received a request from Arafat for a visa to address the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination’s annual convention in Washington on April 13.
Asked what he would do about an Arafat visa request, Secretary of State-designate James Baker III said he could not give an immediate answer.