PLO Still Pressing for a Vote on Admission to Health Body
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PLO Still Pressing for a Vote on Admission to Health Body

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The annual meeting of the World Health Assembly opened in an atmosphere of crisis here Monday as last-minute efforts were made to induce the Palestine Liberation Organization to withdraw its bid for full membership in the World Health Organization, with all the rights of a sovereign state.

Given the political makeup of the 166-nation assembly, the WHO’s governing body, the PLO’s chances are good.

But if it is admitted, the U.N agency will lose the $73.8 million American contribution to its fiscal 1990 budget, as the Bush administration made clear last week. That would be a crippling blow.

American and other Western diplomats have pleaded around the clock with Asian and African delegations, warning that they would be the principal victims of a shortfall of WHO funds.

The organization has intensive care programs in dozens of Third World countries, where it fights infectious diseases, including AIDS, provides vaccines and serums, and trains doctors and nurses in public health.

But most of the 92 countries that have recognized the Palestinian state proclaimed by the PLO last year have refused so far to reconsider their decision to vote to admit the PLO. According to Western diplomats, they prefer a political victory to the benefits provided by the WHO.

The PLO has rejected attempts to strike a compromise. It is pressing ahead for a vote, which is now expected to take place Wednesday.


Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, the Japanese physician who is director general of the WHO, disclosed that his 11th-hour appeal to Yasir Arafat, at a meeting in Tunis over the weekend, was in vain.

According to senior sources in the organization, the WHO is offering the PLO a quid proquo. It promises to send field hospitals and medical teams to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where hundreds of people have been wounded in the course of the Palestinian uprising and thousands are reported to lack adequate medical assistance.

Under the plan, the medical teams would be funded by the WHO and operated by the Swissbased International Committee of the Red Cross.

According to the WHO sources, the PLO seems tempted, but remains reluctant to give in. On the one hand, it feels it needs a political victory here to balance Arafat’s recent conciliatory moves toward Israel.

At the same time, PLO officials are not convinced the Israeli authorities would permit the Red Cross to operate unhampered in the territories on the scale envisaged.

The United States also is not backing down. Health and Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan told Israeli Health Minister Ya’acov Tsur here that the U.S. government is adamant about cutting off funds to the WHO if it grants the PLO full membership.

(JTA correspondent Edwin Eytan in Paris contributed to this report.)

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