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Senate Adopts Compromise Language on Bill Restricting PLO Contacts

The Senate adopted legislation Thursday to bar U.S. government contacts with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization who have been involved in terrorist acts.

The 97-1 vote to adopt the measure came after the Senate rejected a more stringent version proposed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) and modified slightly by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa).

The Bush administration and at least two Jewish groups strongly opposed the Helms amendment to the State Department authorization bill, which was rejected by a vote of 75-23.

Helms cast the lone vote against the substitute amendment, which was introduced by Senate Majority leader George Mitchell (D-Maine), Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and four other senators.

The original Helms measure would have would have required the president to certify that each PLO official the United States contacted was not involved in terrorist activity.

The Mitchell-Dole substitute prevents contacts with PLO officials the president knows to have “directly participated in the planning or execution of a particular terrorist activity which resulted in the death or kidnapping of an American citizen.”

SUBSTITUTE BILL A ‘FIG LEAF’

Helms called the substitute language a “fig leaf” in which there is “no requirement that the president ever advise Congress.”

Two Jewish groups that opposed the Helms amendment, the American Jewish Congress and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, said Thursday they support the substitute.

And other American Jewish groups who had supported the Helms amendment from the start had no quarrel with the revised version that was adopted.

In New York, the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith praised the Senate move, saying that it “sends a signal to all parties involved in the Middle East peace process that the U.S. considers these terrorists to have no role in the civilized world of international diplomacy.”

Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said he was gratified that the Senate had sought to limit “talks with PLO terrorists and those who conspire with them to commit terrorist acts against U.S. citizens.”

He urged the House of Representatives to adopt similar legislation.

But three of the Senate’s eight Jewish members felt that the stronger language was so preferable that they voted in favor of the Helms amendment, even though its chances of passing were slim.

After the Helms bill was defeated, Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.). Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) supported the substitute bill.

Mitchell said that while President Bush opposes the compromise, he considers it “far less offensive” than the Helms proposal and will not veto it.

Before the Senate debate, Bush sent a letter to Mitchell warning that the amendment “would interfere significantly, if not destroy, the ability of the United States to promote a viable peace process in the Middle East.”

“Should this amendment become law, U.S. influence would be diminished and the prospects for peace significantly and possibly decisively undermined. The big losers would be Israel and ourselves,” Bush wrote.

The votes Thursday came three weeks after reports surfaced that the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau, had met with Salah Khalaf, a top PLO official.

Khalef, also known as Abu Iyad, founded the extremist Black September terrorist organization held responsible for the massacre of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games in 1972.

He was also implicated in the 1973 killing of the U.S. ambassador to Sudan, Cleo Noel Jr.

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