Arafat Won’t Seek to Come to U.S. for U.N. Session, Says PLO Official

Yasir Arafat will not seek permission from the United States to attend this week’s U.N. General Assembly debate on the question of Palestine, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief representative here said Monday.

“Had he wanted to come, he would have asked for a visa two weeks ago,” Zehdi Terzi, who heads the PLO observer mission, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

But whatever relief the United States and Israel may feel at hearing this news is being tempered by indications of new PLO efforts on the diplomatic front.

According to sources here, a draft resolution is being circulated here proposing that the General Assembly officially change the name of the PLO observer mission from “Palestine” to the “State of Palestine,” thereby upgrading the mission’s status within the United Nations from an “observer” to an “observer state.”

Such a move would indicate U.N. recognition of an existing Palestinian state.

The PLO is waging a parallel diplomatic offensive in Rome, at the General Conference of the Food and Agricultural Organization, a U.N. agency.

A resolution currently before the FAO conference would not only upgrade the PLO’s status from non-state observer to full membership, but would channel international food assistance to Palestinians through the PLO.

U.S. THREATENS TO CUT FUNDS

In Washington, the State Department threatened Monday to withhold U.S. funding to any U.N. body, including the General Assembly and the FAO, that recognizes the PLO’s proclaimed “State of Palestine.”

“The United States government does not recognize Palestine,” State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said at a news briefing Monday. “It does not satisfy the generally accepted criteria under international law for statehood.”

A law adopted by Congress bars U.S. funding specifically to any U.N. agency that “enhances” the PLO’s status.

The General Assembly, however, is not just another U.N. agency. It receives its funding from the overall U.N. program budget.

If the U.S. cuts off its contribution to this budget, the United Nations could conceivably be seriously crippled. The U.S. assessment this year of $216 million represents 25 percent of the total budget.

A cutoff of U.S. funds to the FAO would also severely weaken that agency. Of the $267.6 million FAO budget this year, $61.4 million was to come from the United States, though it has not yet been paid. In addition, the United States owes the FAO another $21 million in arrears.

Tutwiler termed the PLO effort to gain full recognition in the FAO “an objectionable attempt to politicize the important work of this agency.”

Such an effort “does nothing to contribute to the settlement of the political issues involved and does substantial harm to the FAO’s credibility as an organization worthy of U.S. support,” she said.

Tutwiler said the U.N. Relief and Works Agency is the appropriate means for providing “humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people.” She pointed out that in 1989, the United States provided $63 million to that agency, the largest contribution of any country.

COULD CHANGE MIND AT LAST MINUTE

The General Assembly debate on the “Question of Palestine” begins here Wednesday, on the 42nd anniversary of the day the U.N. adopted the plan partitioning Palestine into Jewish and Arab states.

The assembly already began to address the issue during debate Monday on an agenda item titled “The Situation in the Middle East.”

Despite Arafat’s reluctance so far to request a U.S. entry visa, neither Israeli nor American officials are ready to dismiss the possibility that the PLO leader will change his mind about addressing the assembly at the last minute, though they consider that unlikely.

But PLO representative Terzi stated flatly that “he has decided not to ask for a visa.”

If Terzi is correct, the United States will be spared the difficult dilemma of deciding whether to grant Arafat a visa, which made it the target of worldwide criticism last year.

There has been some speculation that an oral message sent by Arafat to President Bush last week addressed the visa issue.

Harris Schoenberg, director of U.N. affairs for B’nai B’rith International, said he had been told by sources that in the oral message, Arafat asserted that his decision not to request a visa was a sign of his “willingness to accommodate” U.S. wishes.

(JTA correspondent Howard Rosenberg in Washington contributed to this report.)

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