PARIS (Jun. 8)
A ranking official of the Palestine Liberation Organization indicated Thursday that the PLO could reverse its position on the Israeli peace initiative, which it has so far flatly rejected.
But Yasir Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO’s executive committee, made clear that certain conditions would have to be met with respect to the Palestinian elections Israel proposes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Rabbo spoke to reporters in Tunis just before meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau.
Pelletreau is the only American diplomat authorized to have official contact with the PLO. Their meeting Thursday was the third formal session in the U.S.-PLO dialogue that began Dec. 16.
It was the first U.S.-P:O session since the Arab League summit meeting last month in Casablanca, Morocco, at which the Arab states rejected the Israeli initiative.
Rabbo said he would ask the American administration for detailed “clarifications” and said he hoped for a “statement of principles” that help the PLO change its negative position on the election plan.
The PLO’s primary condition is a commitment from Washington that Israeli troops will be pulled out of the territories before the elections and that Arabs in East Jerusalem will be allowed to vote.
It also wants international supervision of the polling stations.
Pelletreau and the PLO official held their dialogue at a government-owned guest house in Carthage, about 30 miles from Tunis.
As usual, each sat at a rectangular table. At their first meeting, nearly six months ago, the tables were placed more than three feet apart. At their second meeting on March 22, they were moved slightly closer.
At the meeting Thursday, the tables touched. Experts are pondering the diplomatic significance, is any of the narrowing gap.
In Washington, Secretary of State James Baker said that the United States “got into a fair amount of substance” during the talks in Tunis.
The talks dealt with “serious and practical ways that we might progress, in a step-by-step fashion, toward the goal of a comprehensive settlement, through negotiations based, 242 and 338.”
Baker, answering questions Thursday after a luncheon address to the National Press Club, stressed that the U.S. dialogue with the PLO “should, not be and cannot be, as far as we are concerned, an end in and of itself.
“It can only be productive if it can mover us forward toward the goal of peace in the Middle East,” he said.
Baker said this is also why the United States supports Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s proposal for elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
“When you advance that proposal in the context of a way to launch the political negotiations, this is meaningful,” Baker said. “We think this gives us something to work with to try and move things forward to peace.”
Baker also said he knew nothing about a report Sunday in The Washington Post that John Gunther Dean had 35 meetings with the PLO between October 1978 and June 1981, while he was U.S. ambassador to Lebanon. Dean told the Post that they were sanctioned by Cyrus Vance, who was secretary of state during most of that time period.
Vance told the Post he authorized the meetings to discuss security for the Beirut Embassy and the release of U.S. hostages in Iran.
He said that since the meetings were not to discuss political or diplomatic issues, they did not violate the U.S. pledge not to negotiate with the PLO, a policy the United States changed in December.
(JTA correspondent David Friedman in Washington contributed to this report.).