No early welcome planned for Arafat Caution remains White House rule ISRAELI-PLO PEACE TALKS

September 10, 1993|By Mark Matthews | Mark Matthews,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton will reopen U.S. contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization, but is hesitant to lay out a White House welcome mat for Chairman Yasser Arafat, despite his dramatic renunciation of violence and terror, officials said yesterday.

Mr. Clinton, watching a breakthrough toward Middle East peace, plans to play host to a signing ceremony Monday morning on the south lawn of the White House as representatives of Israel and the PLO meet to formalize arrangements for limited Palestinian autonomy in Israeli-occupied Gaza and Jericho.

The administration plans to resume a dialogue with the PLO that shut down following a terror attack in 1990. But the United States will not quickly recognize the organization formally as the voice of Palestinians in the occupied territories and abroad, officials said.

And, asked if Mr. Arafat would be welcome at Monday's ceremony, a senior White House briefer declined to respond directly, saying:

"We're engaged in consultations with the parties at this point, and we need to reach agreement with them on the level" at which the PLO would be represented.

"Obviously we're hosting this, but they have a say in who should be there," the official said.

Senior U.S. and Palestinian officials said earlier that Israel would probably be represented by Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, who oversaw the secret talks in Norway leading to the breakthrough, and the PLO by either Farouk Khadoumi or Abu Mazin. Mr. Khadoumi, who fills the role of foreign minister for the PLO, has so far opposed the Israeli-PLO accord.

Symbol of terrorism

Despite the sweeping breakthrough that he authorized, Mr. Arafat is still seen by many in this country as a symbol of international terrorism.

The reluctance to encourage a White House visit by Mr. Arafat was consistent with the administration's cautious response to the breakthrough almost from the moment that Mr. Peres informed Secretary of State Warren M. Christopher about it two weeks ago in Santa Barbara, Calif.

Having led the way in promoting Mideast peace for two decades, the United States is now a supporting player in the main event, with the bold political decisions occurring among the parties without Washington's influence.

Officials said they had been kept informed of the secret talks, but were unaware of their potential to produce a fundamental change in Israeli-Palestinian relations until late in the game.

This U.S. circumspection prevented President Clinton from gaining a share of the media glory yesterday after it was announced that Israel and the PLO had agreed to mutual recognition.

The White House scheduled a Rose Garden appearance by Mr. Clinton to announce his plans to reopen the dialogue and be host to the signing ceremony. But staffers had to scrap the announcement when word reached Washington that neither Mr. Rabin nor Mr. Arafat would actually sign the necessary exchange of letters until late last night or early today.

Administration stunned

Nonetheless, the breadth of Mr. Arafat's letter recognizing Israel and renouncing terrorism stunned administration officials.

One passage went a long way toward satisfying conditions for resuming the dialogue that were spelled out by President George Bush when he halted it in June 1990.

It said that "the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violence and discipline violators."

Mr. Bush took his action at least in part because Mr. Arafat had failed to discipline a violent PLO faction led by Abu Abbas following an aborted terror attack on an Israeli beach.

The mutual PLO-Israeli recognition will force, at a minimum, a restructuring of the U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace talks, which are nearing the end of a largely ceremonial round in Washington.

Rather than be officially part of a joint delegation with Washington, Palestinians will be negotiating directly with Israel, under a PLO flag, over the crucial details and implementation plans of their accord.

The United States will be expected to oversee this process, as well as to act as point man for the contributions needed to get a new Palestinian government off the ground.

Raising the money

U.S. officials still won't state a firm figure of the amount needed, but stress that the United States would provide only a portion.

Although no U.S. peacekeeping forces are contemplated, the United States will be expected to help make sure that security arrangements in the West Bank and Gaza are sufficient to prevent the agreement's being undone.

The United States also will have to assert itself in pressing Arab states to achieve their own breakthroughs.

While Jordan and Israel are close to a modest accord over an agenda for future talks, Israel and Syria have made little progress on the tough land-for-peace issues confronting them.

Israel and Lebanon are at odds over how to guarantee security on Israel's northern border sufficiently to justify an Israeli withdrawal from its self-declared south Lebanon security zone.

The guest list for Monday's event hasn't been set, but it is expected to include Norway's foreign minister, the foreign ministers of Egypt and Russia, and key members of previous administrations, including former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former President Jimmy Carter, who steered the peace process.

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