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New PLO Statement Welcomed by U.s., but Falls Short of Condemning Attack

The Bush administration welcomed the Palestine Liberation Organization’s condemnation Monday of “military” acts against civilians, but left unclear whether it went far enough to preserve the U.S. dialogue with the PLO.

Both Vice President Dan Quayle and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney told the 31st annual policy conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee on Monday that President Bush had not yet made a decision on whether to suspend the dialogue in the aftermath of a foiled terrorist attack against Israel last month by a PLO constituent group.

The two officials indicated the decision could come this week.

The PLO issued a statement Monday from its headquarters in Tunis and Amman, declaring, “We remain against any military action which targets civilians, regardless of the nature of such action, and we condemn it.”

But there was no specific mention by the PLO of the attempted attack by the Palestine Liberation Front on Tel Aviv beaches May 30, during the Shavuot holiday.

“Just as we saw their original disavowal of the Tel Aviv raid, we are pleased to see that they (the PLO) are denouncing military action against civilians,” State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said.

“But we are disappointed that they have not explicitly condemned the Tel Aviv raid and refrained from any public comment on Abul Abbas.” Abbas, whose given first name is Mohammed, heads the Palestine Liberation Front and is a member of the PLO executive committee.

NJCRAC URGES END OF DIALOGUE

Many of the 1,500 persons attending the AIPAC conference had clearly anticipated that Quayle would announce a suspension of the PLO dialogue, if not a complete break.

Although the vice president was frequently applauded and received a standing ovation at the end of his speech, there was an audible gasp of disappointment when he said that Bush had not yet made a decision.

But they did applaud when Quayle said, “President Bush will make the right decision.”

Thomas Dine, AIPAC’s executive director, called for the administration to end the dialogue in his address to the conference Sunday night.

“The dialogue has failed,” he said. “And the administration has no choice but to suspend it.”

He called on the AIPAC members to support resolutions in the Senate and House of Representatives urging the administration to end the dialogue unless the PLO condemns the May 30 terrorist attempt and expels Abbas from the PLO executive committee.

In Indianapolis, the executive committee of the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council urged the administration Monday to discontinue the dialogue, saying the PLO had not kept the promises it made when the talks with the United States began in December 1988.

In a letter to Bush, NJCRAC Chairman Arden Shenker said neither the PLO nor its chairman, Yasir Arafat, had carried out its commitment that it would publicly condemn and discipline any PLO member that committed an act of terrorism.

Likewise, the chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Seymour Reich, called on the United States last Friday to terminate the talks with the PLO, which have been conducted by the U.S. ambassador in Tunis, Robert Pelletreau.

Secretary of State James Baker is expected to face tough questioning on this when he appears before committees in the Senate on Tuesday and in the House on Wednesday.

In his appearance before AIPAC, Quayle sought to explain why the administration is trying so hard to maintain the U.S.-PLO dialogue.

ISRAEL WON’T BE PRESSED ON PLO

“The Bush administration has continued the dialogue, because we believe that in the absence of such dialogue, Palestinians in the occupied territories would be less likely to participate in the peace process,” he said.

He stressed that the United States wants to continue working with the new government in Israel on the peace initiative proposed by Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir a year ago.

“We hope that a new Israeli government will give its full support to a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue,” Quayle said. “And we intend to work with that government to move forward in the peace process.”

In an effort to calm the fears Shamir has expressed about the U.S. position, Quayle said the United States “will never press Israel to negotiate with the PLO.

“We never sought to bring the PLO into the peace process through the back door,” he added.

The vice president also reaffirmed that the Bush administration does not support a Palestinian state and believes that Jerusalem must remain united.

Both Quayle and Cheney stressed that the U.S.-Israel relationship remains strong despite occasional differences. “Show me a marriage in which there have never been disagreements, and I’ll show you a couple with no personality,” Cheney said.

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