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U.S. Talks with No. 2 PLO Official Undercut Shamir, Lawmakers Say

U.S. contacts with Salah Khalaf, a top official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, have undercut Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, five Jewish members of Congress charged Thursday.

They made the charge after it was disclosed that U.S. Ambassador to Tunisia Robert Pelletreau had met at least twice with Khalaf, who is the No. 2 official and security chief of Al Fatah, the largest of the PLO factions.

Khalaf, who is often called Abu Iyad, is also a top adviser to PLO leader Yasir Arafat.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that Khalaf told the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA that he had been talking with Pelletreau outside of the formal dialogue.

Until that revelation, it had been understood that Pelletreau was meeting only with Hakam Balaoui, the PLO’s representative in Tunis, or Yasir Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO’s executive committee.

An official at the State Department would only confirm Thursday that Pelletreau and Khalaf met earlier this week.

Yossi Gal, the Israeli Embassy spokesman here, said in a statement that such a meeting “does not promote the peace process.”

He said Khalaf has pledged his “unwavering support” for the armed struggle against Israel.

At a news conference in the Capitol, Rep. Mel Levine (D-Calif.) argued that the Bush administration “has again pulled the rug out from the Israeli leadership.”

LINK TO MUNICH MASSACRE

Levine said the United States should not have met Khalaf, citing his alleged involvement in various terrorist acts, including the 1972 murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich.

“We don’t select the individuals for the PLO that are going to engage in dialogue with us,” the State Department official responded.

The official criticized the lawmakers for having a “pecking order” of whom the United States should talk to. He pointed out that the members of Congress did not complain when Pelletreau met with Rabbo, who has led the PLO delegation to the talks in Tunis.

Rabbo is the No. 2 official in the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been linked to several attempts to infiltrate northern Israel this year.

At the news conference, Rep. James Scheuer (D-N.Y.) expressed concern that the contacts with Rabbo could further harm the beleaguered Israeli prime minister.

Shamir “is coming under savage attack from the right-wing of the Likud,” he said, citing the challenge his peace initiative is facing from Likud Cabinet Ministers Ariel Sharon, David Levy and Yitzhak Moda’i.

If Shamir “cannot show that he’s got some credibility abroad, his efforts are going to be crippled and weakened,” Scheuer said. The United States “should not engage in continuous sniping at him as we have done in the past.”

But the State Department official denied having “done anything of the kind.” The official said the United States actively supports Shamir’s four-point initiative and has sought to convince the PLO to agree to the elections.

The Jewish lawmakers Thursday did not categorically call for an end to the 6-month-old U.S.-PLO dialogue.

But Rep. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, “If the dialogue entails dealing with people like Abu Iyad, it ought to be cut off.”

The other two lawmakers who spoke at the news conference were Reps. Benjamin Gilman (R-N.Y.) and Elliot Engel (D-N.Y.).

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