Arabs Plan to Move U.N. Meeting; U.S. Defends Denial of Arafat Visa
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Arabs Plan to Move U.N. Meeting; U.S. Defends Denial of Arafat Visa

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The Arab League will wait until Wednesday before asking the General Assembly to move its annual debate on the Palestinian issue to United Nations European headquarters in Geneva.

Arab League envoy Clovis Maksoud said the waiting period was set in order to allow time for the United States to reconsider its decision to deny Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat permission to come to New York to address the world body on Thursday.

Moving the meeting to Geneva presumably would allow Arafat to participate in the debate.

The Arab nations insist they have enough votes within the 159-member General Assembly to support moving the session, although there was uncertainty Monday whether a simple or two-thirds majority is needed for approval.

The campaign reportedly is being spearheaded by Jordan and Egypt.

In Washington, meanwhile, State Department spokesman Charles Redman said the United States does not support or oppose a possible special session of the General Assembly in Geneva. The United States would be represented, he said.

Redman said the U.S. decision on the visa denial is “firm and final.”

U.N. officials and delegates have been critical of the U.S. decision since it was announced Saturday afternoon.


Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar said Sunday that the denial of the visa is “incompatible with the obligation of the host country” under the 1947 Headquarters Agreement placing the United Nations in New York.

Perez de Cuellar said the timing of the U.S. decision was “unfortunate” because of the recent meeting of the Palestinian National Council in Algiers, which, he said, “provides fresh opportunities for progress towards peace in the Middle East.”

The PLO hoped that a declaration it issued at the Algiers meeting would be taken as evidence that it had moderated its stance toward Israel. The statement included acceptance of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, which indirectly recognizes Israel. European nations welcomed the declaration. But the State Department’s rejection of Arafat’s visa request seemed the Reagan administration’s final word on the PNC meeting, which it feels did not go far enough in explicitly recognizing Israel or denouncing terrorism.

More criticism was heard Monday at a session of the 15-member U.N. Committee on Host Country Relations. The committee could recommend that the United Nations take legal action to reverse the U.S. decision.

U.S. Ambassador Patricia Byrne told the committee that the State Department’s decision was part of the U.S. government’s “right to protect its national security.”

Byrne said the United States had denied visas in the past to several diplomats, including Iranians linked to the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Teheran in 1978.

She noted that visas have been issued to members of the PLO, including the head of the PLO’s observer mission to the United Nations, Zehdi Terzi.


She also referred to Arafat’s U.N. appearance in 1974, when the PLO chairman declared that he had come “bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter’s gun.”

But Byrne said the United States has evidence that Arafat “knows of, condones and lends support” to the actions of Force 17, Arafat’s personal security force, and Hawari, which conducts special operations for Al Fatah, the terrorist arm of the PLO controlled by Arafat.

Byrne said both forces have perpetrated terrorist acts recently.

Israeli officials had no immediate response to talk of moving the annual debate on “the question of Palestine” to Geneva. A spokesman for the Israeli Mission to the United Nations said Israel welcomes the U.S. decision, which was “wise, correct and timely.

“In view of Arafat’s view on terrorism, he should not be welcomed in the United States,” the spokesman said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Redman said that Secretary of State George Shultz did not consult with pro-Israel groups in making his decision to deny Arafat a visa.

Redman was responding in part to accusations by Arab nations and others that the United States had bowed to pressure from Israel and the pro-Israel lobby.

Asked why Arafat was allowed entry in 1974 and not now, Redman said each application is examined “in its place in time.”


In response to criticism that the U.S. decision will discourage PLO moderation, Redman said, “There’s probably no other country in the world that has worked as hard at the peace process as the United States has done. And we certainly have every intention of continuing to do that.

“But there are other issues in the world,” he said. “One of the most important issues is terrorism, and that is the issue that we come face to face with when we look at this visa request.”

Saying no to terrorism was also at the heart of President Reagan’s support of Shultz’s decision.

Asked Sunday if the United States wasn’t sending out a wrong signal in seeming to discourage the PLO’s so-called moderation, Reagan said: “I think the other way would have sent out the wrong signal: that we were patsies.”

In New York, a spokesman for Cardinal John O’Connor denied a published report that the Catholic leader had urged the U.S. government to allow Arafat to speak at the U.S. government to allow Arafat to speak at the United Nations.

The spokesman provided a transcript of the news conference cited in the report, in which O’Connor said he was “surprised” that the visa was denied. But he called the decision complicated and said he could see “both sides” of the issue.

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

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