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Mitterrand Tells Jewish Leaders He Doesn’t Necessarily Back PLO

President Francois Mitterrand has reaffirmed his friendship with Israel and assured the Jewish community here that his intention to meet here next week with Yasir Arafat does not mean he now supports the Palestine Liberation Organization’s aims.

“Talking does not mean accepting” the PLO’s objectives, Mitterrand said in a letter addressed to CRIF, the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions.

In the letter, addressed to CRIF President Theo Klein and released for publication Thursday, Mitterrand said that his “quest for peace is based on dialogue and this means the need to hear all the parties” to the Middle East dispute.

The president added his wishes to the Jewish community on the occasion of Passover, recalling the traditional greeting “Next year in Jerusalem.” Mitterrand added that “France does not forget the victims of the Holocaust nor those of blind terrorism.”

Klein welcomed Mitterrand’s letter as a “positive step,” but said that neither he nor any members of the organized community are prepared to meet with the PLO leader.

Arafat is due to arrive here Tuesday for a two-day official visit at the invitation of Mitterrand, his first visit to a major Western country.

He will meet with Foreign Minister Roland Dumas, former Premier Raymond Barre and the three former French foreign ministers with whom he has met: Jean-Francois Poncet, Jean Sauvarnagues and Claude Cheysson. He also will be the guest of honor at a banquet given by Dumas, which Premier Michel Rocard is due to attend.

ARABS TO STAGE MAJOR RALLY

Mitterrand is due to confer with President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker on May 18 and 19. French officials say he will report to them on his meeting with Arafat.

Several civil rights organizations as well as the Union of Arab Immigrants have called for a mass gathering on Tuesday to express their support for Mitterrand’s decision to meet with Arafat. The demonstration will coincide with a rally called by the Jewish community to protest the Arafat visit.

The Union of Arab Immigrants hopes to demonstrate the numerical weight of French Moslems, who are believed to number more than 1.5 million people. The French Jewish population is no more than 600,000.

In recent weeks, French Arabs have entered the political scene, and several will run for the European Parliament in June on the lists of practically all major political parties. This phenomenon is viewed with anxiety by Jews here.

A public opinion poll published Thursday shows that Mitterrand’s popularity rating has increased by 5 percent since the announcement of his forthcoming meeting with Arafat, and this in spite of the Jewish community’s strong negative reaction.

The French opposition parties have either backed the president’s initiative or refrained from commenting on it.

Even Simone Veil, a major opposition leader and survivor of Auschwitz, has said that the meeting could help in the search for a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict.

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