Health Assembly Postpones Vote on Granting PLO Full Membership
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Health Assembly Postpones Vote on Granting PLO Full Membership

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The World Health Assembly voted Wednesday to postpone by 48 hours a debate on the Palestine Liberation Organization’s request for admission into the World Health Organization with the rights of a sovereign state.

The 166-nation assembly, the WHO’s governing body, will examine the issue at a Friday afternoon session.

But most observers believe the delay has significantly diminished chances that the PLO’s bid will succeed.

The vote to postpone the debate was 56-47, with 20 abstentions. Both the United States and the Soviet Union backed the motion, which also was supported by Israel.

The motion was introduced by Austria, a country that has been sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and it was seconded by Canada, which raised the level of its dialogue with the PLO in March.

The postponement was opposed by the Arab states and a number of Third World countries. But several African countries were among the 20 that abstained.

The real issue in the vote was not the PLO’s request, but the prospect of crippling the WHO, a U.N. agency that provides health services on which many developing nations rely.

The United States served notice last week that it would withhold its $73.8 million contribution to the WHO’s fiscal 1990 budget if the PLO were to be admitted. Efforts to induce the PLO to withdraw its application failed.


A vote on the PLO request had been scheduled on Wednesday afternoon. The American and Israeli delegations, which have been cooperating closely here, felt there was a good chance of defeating it. Nevertheless, the outcome was very much in doubt.

Israel’s health minister. Ya’acov Tsur, and the U.S. secretary of health and human services, Dr. Louis Sullivan, decided to push for a postponement.

The two met at an Israel Independence Day party at the home of the Israeli ambassador.

When the assembly convened Wednesday afternoon, several Latin American, African and Pacific rim countries expected to vote against the PLO had not yet received instructions from their governments, leaving the issue very much in doubt.

After a brief legal skirmish, the assembly’s president, Chen Min Khuang of China, put the postponement motion to a vote.

The Canadian delegate summed up the prevailing mood when he said, “It would give us all additional time to consider a reasonable solution.”

Israeli diplomats here now feel relatively secure that the PLO bid will be defeated.

A PLO success in Geneva would improve chances for its admission into other U.N. agencies with the rights of a state.

The organization announced Tuesday that it will apply to the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the Food and Agricultural Organization in Rome and the International Labor Organization in Geneva.

The PLO also is seeking admission into the International Telecommunications Union, which meets in Nice later this month.

A two-thirds majority is required to gain admission to those organizations. Admission to the WHO, however, requires only a simple majority vote.

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