PLO to Push for US Recognition, Mideast Conference

FOLLOWING the visit of Israel's foreign minister to Washington early this week, it is the Palestine Liberation Organization's turn to make its views known to the United States. The second formal meeting of the US and PLO is to take place in Tunis sometime between today and Monday. This meeting follows various kinds of PLO pressure to keep the talks moving at an official level.

According to Jamil Hilal, director of the PLO Information Department in Tunis, the organization will raise a number of issues, including:

Convening of an international Middle East peace conference.

Israel's handling of the Palestinian uprising and the role that the US could play in curbing Israel's response. At least 401 Palestinians have been killed and about 4,000 wounded in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sixteen Israelis have died in violence related to the uprising.

US recognition - not yet granted - of the PLO as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinians.

Mr. Hilal said that if the US side ``evades tackling substantive issues'' during the forthcoming session, the PLO ``may have to resort to severing contacts, because the dialogue, to the PLO, is not an end in itself, but a means to an end.''

Hilal conceded that ending the dialogue would be a setback to the PLO and its mainstream leadership following the concessions chairman Yasser Arafat made in Geneva in December to get that dialogue under way. But he expressed the belief that continuing contacts without any progress on issues of substance would be even more damaging to the PLO leadership.

Syrian President Hafez Assad, who has long opposed Mr. Arafat's more moderate policies, broke his long silence last week over the PLO chief's recent peace moves and implicitly criticized his overtures to Israel and the US.

``The policy of free concessions never led anyone to win back his rights,'' Mr. Assad said at a rally celebrating the 26th anniversary of the rise to power of his Baath Socialist Party.

Hilal said the PLO would also break off the talks if pressured by the US on these issues:

Accepting direct negotiations with Israel instead of an international peace conference.

Ending the uprising and sanctioning the election of non-PLO Palestinian negotiators in the territories.

Stopping operations against the Israeli Army from southern Lebanon.

Hilal said that the December meeting between PLO officials and the US Ambassador to Tunisia, Robert Pelletreau, was ``the only formal meeting that has taken place to date between the US State Department and the PLO Executive Committee.''

Other contacts had been ``informal'' and had been conducted between Mr. Pelletreau and the PLO's ambassador to Tunis, Hakam Balawi, ``in the way that one ambassador routinely contacts another,'' Hilal added.

Some PLO officials believe that the US has been deliberately dragging its feet as a way of pressuring the PLO into making further political concessions.

A PLO warning that informal contacts could be severed, sent through a Swedish intermediary earlier this month, was aimed at ``uncovering US attempts to create the impression that the informal PLO-US contacts and the meetings in the occupied territories between PLO supporters and Israelis were a substitute for substantive, formal dialogue between the PLO and the United States,'' Hilal said.

The PLO also threatened that it would ban all meetings between pro-PLO Palestinians in the occupied territories and Israeli liberals unless the State Department agreed to hold a new session of official talks, Hilal added. That agreement came last week.

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