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PLO Confirms Talks with Israel, but Rabin Denies Report is True

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin has denied a newspaper report that Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization have held secret talks, but both Palestinian and Israeli sources have confirmed the report.

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz on Monday quoted a “senior political source” as saying that talks between Israeli and PLO officials from Tunis have been held during the past few weeks, through messengers in both Israel and an Arab country, with the full knowledge and support of Rabin and PLO leader Yasir Arafat.

The American administration was also involved in the talks, the source told Ha’aretz.

If true, that would be a change in policy for the United States, which severed a 17-month dialogue with the PLO in June 1990.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Mike McCurry said Monday that he was aware of reports about Israeli meetings with PLO officials. But he referred reporters to “the parties who were cited in those news reports.”

“As you know, we don’t have discussions directly with the PLO,” he added.

In Tunis, meanwhile, Arafat told the Reuters news agency Monday that senior PLO officials had met with Israeli diplomats in Washington twice during the last round of Middle East peace talks.

But Arafat said, the talks failed in their attempt to break the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

PERES ALSO DENIES REPORT

The source quoted by Ha’aretz did not mention who took part in the negotiations but said that they were being held at a level “high enough to make decisions.”

The purpose of the talks, said the source, was to break the deadlock in the bilateral negotiations.

“If these contacts bear results,” said the source, “this will be a bombshell. The public will be amazed when things get clearer.”

Gad Ben-Ari, Rabin’s spokesman, denied the report Monday, stressing that the peace negotiations were being held only within the framework of the rules laid down at the October 1991 peace conference in Madrid, which launched the current negotiations.

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who has generally been more open than Rabin about the possibility of future talks with the PLO, also denied the newspaper report.

But Arafat’s political adviser, Nabil Sha’ath, a member of the Palestinian delegation to the peace talks, confirmed the report in a news conference he convened Monday in Cairo.

And here in Israel, Deputy Housing Minister Ran Cohen of the dovish Meretz bloc also said Monday that the report was correct and had been corroborated by “a Palestinian source” with whom he had been in contact.

Cohen said a “senior PLO source” told him the talks were being held in a “positive and constructive atmosphere,” although no substantive results had been achieved so far.

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