U.S. Marshaling Diplomatic Effort to Persuade PLO to Condemn Attack

The United States has enlisted the help of France, Great Britain, Egypt and other countries in lobbying the Palestine Liberation Organization to take a clearer stand against the attack one of its constituent groups tried to stage last month on beaches near Tel Aviv.

The diplomatic effort was revealed Tuesday by Secretary of State James Baker during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

His disclosure points to the great lengths taken by the United States to pressure the PLO into making statements that would allow the two parties to continue their dialogue.

“The PLO knows exactly what it has to do,” a well-placed State Department official said Tuesday afternoon.

Britain, which has an anti-terrorism policy close to that of the United States, has asked the PLO to “take steps against any of their members who have been involved” in the raid, said an official of the British Embassy here.

The French Embassy’s chief Middle East expert said his country has simply conveyed the “reality” of the U.S. position to the PLO.

In principle, France does not believe the PLO has to meet U.S. demands as a condition for continuing the dialogue, said Gerard Araud, first secretary at the embassy. Araud said the French government has “no reason to doubt” Yasir Arafat’s claim that he was not aware of the raid beforehand. On that basis, the PLO chief should not have to make concessions “for something you are not responsible for,” he said.

NO ‘ARTIFICIAL DEADLINES’

Baker said the United States will make the decision without the pressure of “artificial deadlines.” The reference appears to be aimed at Israel and its supporters, who have already called for the dialogue to be terminated.

The secretary of state said the decision would have “important implications” for the Arab-Israeli peace process, but that the United States would not allow its pursuit of peace to “undercut” the U.S. stand against terrorism.

Baker said the United States conveyed messages to Britain, France, Egypt, the Netherlands and Sweden, saying that “it would be very difficult for us to sustain this dialogue” if the PLO did not clearly condemn the May 30 raid as well as discipline Mohammed (Abul) Abbas, who heads the PLO faction that carried out the attack.

He said the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau, has met with the PLO a half-dozen times since the raid, and has urged it to “begin to take steps to discipline” Abbas.

The PLO issued a statement Monday declaring its opposition to “any military action that targets civilians,” though it did not mention the May 30 attack specifically.

Baker said that statement “falls short of the mark.”

An Egyptian Embassy official said the statement came after Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak warned Arafat that without a “clear denunciation” of the raid, U.S.-PLO relations would “deteriorate.”

The Egyptian official said that Monday’s statement represents “some sort of progress,” but that “if Arafat is keen on the dialogue, he must try to search for a way to fulfill United States demands. Otherwise the dialogue will be stopped.”

“The Egyptians are continuing” to seek “a more forceful position out of the PLO on this,” a State Department official confirmed Tuesday.

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