Menu JTA Search

Tougher Version of Bill Restricting PLO Contacts is Introduced in House

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

Angered by President Bush’s apparent intention to ignore legislation restricting U.S. contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization, two members of the House of Representatives have introduced a more stringent version of the bill adopted by the Senate last week.

The House bill contains provisions advocated by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) that were rejected by the Senate in favor of softer language.

Reps. Edward Feighan (D-Ohio) and Christopher Smith (R- N.J.) introduced the bill Tuesday after President Bush indicated he would not pay attention to the version approved by the Senate.

Bush called the amendment unconstitutional Tuesday and said that the United States will continue its dialogue with the PLO as it has up to now.

The administration had negotiated the “watered down” version with Senate leaders, but, according to a Feighan aide, now says it has “no intention of paying heed” to the Senate measure, which was adopted as an amendment to a bill authorizing funds for the State Department.

Introduced as a free-standing bill, the Feighan-Smith legislation, like Helms’ defeated amendment, would require the president to certify that every member of the PLO it holds talks with has not been involved in terrorist activity.

The Senate rejected the Helms amendment by a 72-23 vote. Instead, it adopted a less stringent amendment, introduced by Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (D-Maine) and Senate Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.), which only Helms opposed.

If signed into law, the Mitchell-Dole amendment would require the president to advise Congress if a PLO official has been involved in terrorist activities.

‘INTRUSION’ IN FOREIGN POLICY

At the State Department Wednesday, spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler sought to clarify Bush’s position.

“The president strongly believes that legislation that tries to restrict or manage the conduct of diplomacy is an infringement on presidential prerogative and is unconstitutional,” Tutwiler said.

But “he acknowledges the widespread sentiment in the Congress that produced this legislation. Members of Congress should know that this sentiment and concern will be taken into account as we pursue our policy.”

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

Bush also said the amendment was unconstitutional because it would be a “constraint” on his ability to conduct foreign policy.

“It is, as a result, wholly inconsistent with the Constitution and would be an unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion by the legislative branch on the powers and responsibilities of the presidency,” Bush said.

State Department deputy spokesman Richard Boucher said last Friday that while the amendment adopted by the Senate “is far less offensive” than the Helms amendment, it is still unconstitutional.

The congressional moves to restrict U.S. contacts with the PLO came after it was revealed that Robert Pelletreau, the U.S. ambassador in Tunisia, had met with Salah Khalaf, the second-highest-ranking PLO official.

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.

When asked if the United States will meet again with Abu Iyad, Tutwiler said, “We do not say, and are not going to say, who we do and do not meet with.”

NEXT STORY