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Chance Encounters of the Third Kind: State Department Discloses U.S. Envoy to Vienna Met Three Times

August 16, 1979
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The State Department disclosed today that the United States Ambassador to Austria, Milton Wolf, had met three times with officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization, two of them “chance encounters. Department spokesman Tom Reston said that although Wolf has been reminded of the U.S. policy of not dealing with the PLO he did not believe that the Ambassador had acted improperly.

The disclosure came only a few hours after Secretary of State Cyrus Vance met for 45 minutes at the State Department with Andrew Young, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, apparently over Young’s meeting with a PLO official in New York last month. Young was rebuked by Vance over the telephone yesterday. Reston would not disclose what was said at today’s meeting between Young and Vance nor would he deal with any questions about Young’s possible resignation.

On Wolf, Reston said the Ambassador had met in Vienna with Issam Sartawi, a high-ranking PLO official, after Sartawi telephoned from Beirut and said the PLO wanted to clarify a position it had taken. No details were given of what that position was.

During the meeting with Sartawi, Wolf listened, but did not take any substantive position,” Reston stressed. “Furthermore, in each encounter with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization, he has been careful to repeat the longstanding U.S. position that this government will not recognize or negotiate with the PLO until and unless it accepts United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 and the right of Israel to exist at peace and with secure and recognized borders.”

Reston said Wolf’s two other meetings with PLO representatives were “chance encounters” at social occasions at which Austrians were present, including, at one of them, Chancellor Bruno Kreisky. The Department spokesman stressed that “no substantive topics were discussed” at these two encounters.

One of the “chance encounters” took place last spring and the other June 12, Reston said. While he did not know when the meeting with Sartawi took place, it is believed to have occurred last month shortly before Kreisky and former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt met with PLO leader Yasir Arafat in Vienna.

Reston said that between the time Sartawi asked for a meeting with Wolf and the meeting the State Department was not notified. Wolf was active in the Cleveland Jewish community before his appointment as Ambassador.

Meanwhile, a delegation of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, headed by its chairman, Theodore Mann, met today here with Ambassador Robert Strauss, President Carter’s special envoy for Middle East negotiations. No details were immediately available. Strauss leaves tomorrow for Israel and Egypt.

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