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Bill Restricting Contacts with PLO Unconstitutional, Says State Dept

Legislation adopted by the Senate last week will not change the way the United States conducts its dialogue with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the State Department said Friday.

Richard Boucher the department’s deputy spokesman, said the Bush administration considers a Senate bill barring U.S. contacts with members of the PLO who have been involved in terrorist activities unconstitutional.

But the bill adopted Thursday “is far less offensive” than the original measure proposed by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), Boucher said.

He said the legislation, adopted with only Helms opposing it, “ensures that we can continue our dialogue and thereby giver diplomacy a chance.”

Helms’ proposed amendment to a bill authorizing funds for the State Department would have required the president to certify that each PLO official the United States talked to had not been involved in terrorism.

It was defeated by a 75-23 vote, after President Bush warned that it could force the United States to end its dialogue with the PLO, thereby derailing U.S. peace efforts in the Middle East.

Instead, the Senate adopted a substitute measure introduced by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-kan.). It bars U.S. contacts with PLO officials the president knows to have been involved in past acts of terrorism.

The legislation was a reaction to a meeting between Salah Khalaf, a top PLO official, and Robert Pelletreau, the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia and the only U.S. official authorized to meet with PLO members.

Khalaf, also known as Abu Iyad, founded the extremist Black September terrorist group, which perpetrated the 1972 attack on Israeli athletes at the Olympics in Munich.

Boucher would not answer whether Pelletreau would meet with Khalaf again. He said the question was hypothetical, since the legislation is not yet law. The bill still needs to be approved by the House and would have to be signed by the president.

“The dialogue continues,” he said. “We are not going to get into who we are or are not meeting with at a specific point.”

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