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U.S. Won’t Characterize PLO As Terrorist or Non-terrorist

June 30, 1978
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The State Department today deplored the loss of life resulting from this morning’s terrorist bomb outrage in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, for which the Palestine Liberation Organization has taken credit. But Department sources informed the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that it would have no comment or statement on a remark by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, William Harrop, this week that the U.S. does not regard the PLO as a terrorist organization.

Harrop made that assertion in testimony Monday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in connection with the issuance of Ugandan passports to 27 Palestinians, one of them a reputed terrorist. Apparently as a result of Harrop’s comment, the issue of how the U.S. regards the PLO was raised yesterday with Ambassador-at-Large to the Middle East Alfred L. Atherton and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, Harold Saunders, both of whom appeared before the Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee on the Middle East to explain Carter Administration policies in that region.

Atherton stated that “the United States government has never had occasion to characterize the PLO as a terrorist or a non-terrorist organization.” He noted that the “term terrorist or terrorist organization” does not appear anywhere in the law by which the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service has declared the PLO undesirable. Under that law, the U.S. grants waivers to permit PLO members to enter the country. The PLO has information offices in New York and Washington, D.C.


Atherton and Saunders were questioned on the PLO issue by subcommittee chairman Richard Stone (D.Fla.). Apparently anticipating the questions, Atherton, reading from a prepared statement, noted that the PLO is recognized by the United Nations General Assembly and “much of the world” as representing the Palestinians. The U.S. position, he said, is “not to recognize or deal with the PLO as long as it does not recognize Israel and the right of all nations to live in peace.”

Asked by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency after the hearings, if he was repudiating Harrop, Atherton replied he was “not repudiating him” but that his own statement just made overtakes Harrop’s remark. He said Harrop “is not as familiar as some of us” with the PLO. The JTA, seeking to trace the genesis of the view expressed by Harrop, learned that Saunders had told a State Department-sponsored “workshop” on Middle East affairs in Detroit that the PLO was “an umbrella organization” for elements that included terrorist and nonterrorist groups.

Observers here believe the non-committal U.S. position on the PLO is certain to raise controversy between Vice President Walter Mondale and his hosts when he visits Israel this weekend. Sources who studied Atherton’s responses to the Senate subcommittee on the PLO claimed his language was virtually identical to the PLO’s own description of itself.

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