PARIS (May. 1)
Yasir Arafat apparently will use his official visit to France this week to launch a propaganda offensive to improve the Palestine Liberation Organization’s image in Western Europe.
The PLO leader, who is due here Tuesday, also will try to strengthen the PLO’s relations with the 12-nation European Community. France assumes the rotating chairmanship of the E.C. Council of Ministers on July 1.
Although most Western diplomats predict his visit will be “more form than substance,” Arafat already has made his first bid for public opinion.
In an interview published Saturday in the mass-circulation daily Le Figaro, he asked the French Jewish community “to convince Israel that 40 years of war is enough” and that it is time to start an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.
“I come to France not to seek arms but peace, both for my people and for the Jews,” he told the newspaper.
The PLO leader decried the vigorous opposition to his visit displayed by the French Jewish community. “The protests and uproar now heard are an attempt to muffle our voice to prevent French public opinion from knowing the real reasons for the (Middle East) conflict,” he said.
Arafat will be greeted at Orly Airport Tuesday morning by Deputy Foreign Minister Thierry de Beauce and will be driven directly to the Elysee Palace for a scheduled 90-minute meeting with President Francois Mitterrand.
It will be the first time the PLO chief is received by the leader of a major Western nation, and it is a milestone in the PLO’s quest for international recognition and respectability.
STAYING IN OFFICIAL HOUSING
Western diplomats say Arafat hopes that Mitterrand will plead the cause of PLO recognition when he meets in Washington with U.S. Secretary of State James Baker on May 18 and 19.
Mitterrand, for his part, is said to hope his meeting with Arafat will pave the way for a substantive French role in future Middle East negotiations.
During his two-day stay in Paris, Arafat and his 50-member entourage will be housed by the French government at the same hotel where Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir stayed on his recent visit to Paris.
He will meet with many of the same French officials who welcomed Shamir.
Arafat is due to confer Wednesday with Premier Michel Rocard, who will also give a banquet in his honor. He will meet with the secretary-general of the French Socialist Party, Pierre Mauroy, the mayor of Lille and a former premier.
Mauroy has visited Israel on several occasions and is considered on of the Jewish community’s best friends in France’s political establishment.
Arafat will meet with Foreign Minister Roland Dumas at the Quai d’Orsay Tuesday afternoon. Later, he will receive three former French foreign ministers with whom he has conferred in the past in Tunis, Beirut or Cairo. They are Michel Jobert, Jean Sauvagnargues and Claude Cheysson.
SOME POLITICIANS AVOIDING HIM
Several Jewish intellectuals reportedly had plans to meet with Arafat. Two of those mentioned, conductor Daniel Barenboim and Professor Leon Shwartzenberg, France’s best known cancer researcher, denied they had such plans.
But other prominent Jews will either call on Arafat or attend a dinner to be given in his honor by the local PLO office.
These include Marie-Claire Mendes-France, widow of the former French-Jewish Premier Pierre Mendes-France; philosopher Pierre Vidal-Naquet; and Dr. Joelle Kaufmann, a physician and wife of a former French news correspondent held hostage in Beirut.
Some leading French politicians have begged off meeting with Arafat, claiming previous engagements abroad.
Former Premier Jacques Chirac is leaving for the United States on the eve of his arrival. Laurent Fabius, another former prime minister and a Socialist contender for the next presidential race, has left to attend a symposium in Spain.