Washington — The White House continues its public pressure on Yasser Arafat to yield even more before the United States launches talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Lt. Gen. Colin Powell, the President's national security adviser, says that he is encouraged by the direction in which the PLO is moving. But, he stresses, Mr. Arafat's statements in Geneva this week about Israel's right to exist and PLO rejection of the use of terrorism were still not unconditional enough.
General Powell indicated in an interview that Arafat's statements in Algiers and Stockholm, and certain aspects of his Geneva statement, including its overall tone and some of the language toward the end, represented a positive shift. ``I am encouraged [by] the direction in which the dialogue is moving, but our conditions have not been fully met in unambiguous and unconditional language,'' he said.
It is not the ``existence'' of Israel but the ``right'' of existence that is at issue, he said, for the state of Israel is a historical and geographical fact.
``It's the right of Israel to exist that is the essential acknowledgment that we need,'' he said. ``And if terrorism had been renounced totally, these are conditions we have always said were out there for us to enter into a dialogue. Regrettably the Algiers declaration, [Arafat's] subsequent Stockholm press conferences and statements, and statements of [Dec. 12] do not give us that unambiguous, unconditional statement.''
Asked how dangerous he regarded the situation in the Middle East, Powell indicated it was not as large a danger as a decade ago but nonetheless was a ``terrible situation'' that would be a concern to the next administration.
``The whole situation cries out for forward movement on everyone's part to get a peaceful solution,'' he commented. ``But it is not at the level where it's going to draw the superpowers into some great confrontation that can lead to the sorts of things we had fears about some 10 years ago.''
Powell made these points on other issues:
Afghanistan. ``I believe [the Soviets] will be out by Feb. 15. I believe it because it's something they have committed to do under the terms of the Geneva accord. I think it serves their interest and I think they know it serves their interest. After you have removed half your army, that is not the time to rethink it, and I don't think they are. I think they will remove the remainder of their forces from Afghanistan by the designated time.''
Gorbachev's UN address. It was a ``very major speech of enormous importance.'' But there are risks that forces in the US and Europe will now think everything is wonderful and the US should alter its diplomacy. It is Soviet weaknesses and problems, he indicated, that are prompting ``agility and initiative'' from the Soviet leader.
``People keep coming to me and saying, why have you lost the initiative to Gorbachev? Why is he doing all these things and you guys are standing around? I say when you've got a game plan that's worked and everybody understands it, and the Soviets understand it and keep coming to us with human rights movement, with movement on a solution of regional matters, with signing additional bilateral agreements that are in the best interests of both countries, and when you see progress in arms control without giving away your fundamental positions, it seems to me that's a very good game plan and I don't know why I would want to jump out of a game plan peremptorily.''
Nicaragua. The issue of the contra rebels will require prompt attention by the new administration, Powell said, and he regrets that Congress could not be persuaded to support the rebels. But, he added, ``the historical forces are at work against [Nicaraguan leader] Ortega.''
``His economy is collapsed, and everywhere else in the world people are looking for other political and economy systems to improve their livelihood, and he is behind the historical trend.''
Powell, who has been appointed commanding general of the US Army Forces Command at Ft. McPherson, Ga., said he is gratified to be passing along to Brent Scowcroft, the incoming national security adviser, a well-running National Security Council operation that enjoys the confidence of both President Reagan and President-elect Bush.