Britain canceled a meeting with two Palestine Liberation Organization representatives yesterday because they refused to endorse a statement recognizing Israel and renouncing violence, Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe said. The cancellation was a diplomatic setback for Britain and a personal blow for Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who had hoped the meeting would encourage the US to follow suit and thereby further the Middle East peace process.
British Jews welcomed the cancelation, and the Israeli ambassador said his country had known all along that the PLO would not change its policy toward Israel.
The Foreign Office had faced condemnation from the press and from British Jews for agreeing to meet with members of the PLO executive committee even after the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro by gunmen who claimed they belonged to a PLO group, the Palestine Liberation Front.
PLO executive committee members Mohammed Milhem and Bishop Eliya Khoury refused to sign a British-prepared statement that they opposed terrorism and recognized Israel's right to exist. Sir Geoffrey told a BBC interviewer that the British were ``disappointed'' and said that Great Britian had only agreed to the meeting because it believed the statement would be made.
The cancellation is expected to embarrass Jordan's King Hussein, though it is not certain with whom he will be more angry -- the PLO members for not signing the statement, or the British for demanding it be signed before the meeting.
In a separate interview with Independent Television News, Howe indicated Britain would not rush to take further initiatives. ``We aren't going to move tomorrow in light of this disappointment,'' he said.
When Mrs. Thatcher invited the delegation to London while visiting Jordan last month, she said: ``I hope the step I have announced will help the US take a similar step.''
Critics said Britain's readiness to hold the first meeting ever between a senior Cabinet minister and PLO representatives contradicted Mrs. Thatcher's stern rejection of other terrorist groups, such as the Irish Republican Army.
By Sunday, after the hijacking of the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro, virtually the entire London press, including staunch Thatcher supporters, were editorializing against the meeting.
Issue in Polish elections is how many voted
Since 85 percent of the seats in Poland's elections were guaranteed for the Communist Party and two smaller allied parties, the most important issue was how many eligible voters cast ballots. The communist government said yesterday that more than 75 percent of voters overwhelmingly rejected a Solidarity-led boycott to cast ballots in Poland's first parliamentary elections in five years.
Former Solidarity leader Lech Walesa challenged the claim. He said the now-outlawed Solidarity free-trade-union movement would release its own turnout figures Tuesday. No independent organization monitored the balloting Sunday.
Major earthquake hits central Soviet province
A strong earthquake struck the Soviet central Asian republic of Tadzhikistan, killing an undisclosed number of people, Tass reported yesterday. A seismological institute spokeswoman in Moscow said Sunday's quake measured 6 to 7 points on the open-ended Richter scale. She said it had caused landslides and destroyed buildings and roads.
Kidnappers renew threat to blow up Soviet Embassy
Lebanese radio stations yesterdaymon reported a threat from Muslim extremists to demolish the Soviet Embassy unless it was closed within 48 hours. The Voice of Lebanon said it later received a second anonymous call, also by someone claiming to represent the Islamic Liberation Organization, saying that the Soviet hostages would be killed within a half-hour ``because the demands of the organization have not been met.''
The half-hour passed without any immediate word that the threat had been carried out.
Zia scrubs Germany trip to aid martial-law bill at home
Pakistan President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq yesterday called off a scheduled visit to West Germany as opposition mounted to a bill at home designed to pardon him for the last eight years of martial law rule. Western diplomats said Zia, who has been meeting members of the National Assembly about the draft indemnity bill, was concerned about its passage.
Baker says balanced budget requires defense-spending cut
Treasury Secretary James A. Baker III says a plan to cut federal deficits to zero by 1991 can work, but warns that reductions in Pentagon spending may be required to reach the goal. Mr. Baker, appearing on NBC-TV's ``Meet the Press'' Sunday, said implementing the plan would require elimination of federal subsidies to Amtrak and a phasing out of revenue sharing.
The deficit reduction plan won overwhelming approval in the Senate last week, and a House-Senate conference committee will try this week to agree on a compromise over differing versions of the proposal.
France's Socialist Party settles policy disputes
The Socialist Party Congress reached agreement Sunday on major policy disputes that threatened to divide the governing party before critical parliamentary elections in March. After after 71/ 2 hours of discussion, party leaders produced a common resolution to reunite followers of party First Secretary Lionel Jospin and those behind Michel Rocard, who broke from the main line earlier this year.
``For continued progress, the PS [Socialist Party] wants to rally together,'' said the final resolution, which calls for ensuring a voice for the diverse units of the party and opening its election lists to outsiders.
Ecuador breaks relations with Nicaragua, Contadora group
Ecuador has pulled out of the Contadora support group of countries working for peace in Central America following Ecuador's decision to sever diplomatic relations with Nicaragua. Ecuador cut off diplomatic links with Nicaragua on Friday, saying the left-wing Sandinista government had offended its dignity and sovereignty in a dispute over the role of the two countries in the peace process.
Fermilab's atom smasher gets record high collisions
The world's most powerful atom smasher threw subatomic particles into each other with record force Sunday, putting the US in the forefront of high-energy physics, scientists said. The Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory's complex of particle accelerators and storage rings smashed atom pieces called protons and antiprotons, yielding energy levels three times higher than has been previously achieved, the lab said.
FBI crime report shows increase in last six months
Crimes reported to police in the first six months of this year rose 3 percent compared with the same period in 1984, new statistics show. The trend, reflected in a report released Saturday by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, ran counter to a series of declines in the number of reported crimes since 1981.
Wholesale prices plunge signalling check on inflation
The Labor Department reported that wholesale prices fell 0.6 percent in September, the sharpest slide since January 1983. The report, released Friday, shows the third straight monthly decline in the government's producer price index, leaving that measure of inflation falling at an annual rate of 0.1 percent for the first nine months of this year.