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Reich to Ask State Department to ‘reassess’ Talks with PLO

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The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations will ask Secretary of State James Baker to “promptly and thoroughly” reassess the U.S. policy of holding substantive talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, it was announced by Seymour Reich, chairman of the conference.

In a statement form Jerusalem, where the conference concluded three days of meetings Wednesday with Israeli leaders, Reich said the recent clash between a PLO member group and Israeli soldiers in southern Lebanon has made “worthless Yasir Arafat’s assurances that he has renounced terrorism.”

Reich said that unless the PLO chief “disavows, disowns and condemns this latest terrorist attempt,” then the “American policy of holding substantive talks with the PLO should be promptly and thoroughly reassessed.”

He said the conference intends to “raise this matter” with Baker when its members return from Israel.

The infiltration attempt in southern Lebanon has been linked to members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. On Wednesday, the United States said it had formally notified the PLO of its “serious concern” over the clash.

Following Reich’s announcement, four groups within the Conference of Presidents claimed that Reich had failed to consult with them before releasing a statement on behalf of the consensual organization of 46 American Jewish groups.

The statement as read by Reich in Jerusalem Wednesday is the latest evolution of the conference’s position on the U.S.-PLO dialogue since it was announced on Dec. 15.

At the time of the announcement the conference did not join Israel in condemning the dialogue, but rather urged the United States to be skeptical of Arafat’s assurances that the PLO had renounced terrorism, a precondition for the talks.

A few weeks later, in early January, Reich agreed with a statement by his predecessor as conference chairman, Morris Abram, that the dialogue was “hasty and regrettable.”

Israeli officials, including Deputy Foreign Minster Binyamin Netanyahu, have in the meantime been overtly urging American Jewish leaders to join in their efforts to reverse the U.S. decision.

Sources at the conference mission in Israel said Wednesday’s statement was not to be interpreted as a formal call for a cutoff of the talks. They said the conference has not yet met to adopt a formal position.

Nevertheless, four groups who did not participate in the mission argued Thursday that Reich had not consulted with the full conference membership before calling for a meeting with Baker.

The four groups are the Labor Zionist Alliance, the Federation of Reconstructionist Congregations and Havurot, Workmen’s Circle and Women’s American ORT.

(Mark Joffe in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)

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