Sentiment Building in Congress Against Granting Arafat a Visa

Members of Congress are urging President Bush not to grant a visa to Yasir Arafat should the Palestine Liberation Organization leader ask to enter the United States to address the United Nations General Assembly.

Letters to Bush are already being circulated in the Senate and House, even though Arafat has not yet applied for a visa. Until he does, the administration will not comment on the issue.

At the United Nations, Clovis Maksoud, the Arab League representative here, said Monday that Arafat has not yet decided whether to try to attend the General Assembly session.

But he said that if Arafat did come, the logical time for his visit would be in November, when the assembly holds its annual debate on the Palestinian issue.

The letter being circulated in the Senate focuses on PLO actions in the past year, including raids by PLO constituent groups into Israel, PLO threats against moderate Palestinians who seek a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue and the anti-Israel program adopted last month in Tunis by A1 Fatah, the main branch of the PLO.

After expounding on each of those points, the senators argue “this is not the time for unearned concessions or rewards, such as reversing the current policy of denying a visa for Arafat to enter the United States.”

The lawmakers also express concern about any U.S. decision that would raise the level of the 9-month-old U.S. dialogue with the PLO. Currently, the only American official authorized to conduct that dialogue is the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau.

WOULD UNDERMINE PEACE INITIATIVE

As of Tuesday afternoon, 27 senators had signed the letter, which is co-sponsored by Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), Connie Mack (R-Fla.) and Pete Wilson (R-Calif.).

The House letter, to be mailed Friday, cites U.S. law as allowing presidents to deny visas for foreign policy or national security reasons, or if the applicant “has engaged, in an individual capacity or as a member of an organization, in a terrorist activity.”

That letter, which is being circulated by Rep. Lawrence Smith (D-Fla.), argues that granting Arafat a visa to visit the United Nations this fall would give the PLO an “unwarranted political success.”

Freshman Rep. Michael McNulty (D-N.Y.) last week sent a similar letter to Bush.

Unlike the Senate letter, the House letter contends that approval of an Arafat application also would “seriously undermine Israel’s peace initiative.”

The House members will tell Bush that “most troubling” is Arafat’s “total rejection of Israel’s peace initiative, a creative plan based on free and democratic elections that has earned your strong backing and the support of Congress.”

“Now is not the time to reward intransigence” and reverse the U.S. decision last November to deny Arafat permission to enter the United States, the letter says.

Instead, “now is time to draw the line in the sand and demand progress by the PLO, without any further entreaties by the U.S., ” it states. “We have moved, Israel has moved, the PLO and Arafat have not.”

A half-dozen Jewish groups met here last month with State Department legal experts to discuss a possible Arafat visa request. Israeli leaders visiting Washington recently have also lobbied the administration against granting a visa.

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