PLO Stand Toughened to Mend Italy Coalition
Italy’s ruling five-party coalition took a harder line toward the Palestine Liberation Organization and international terrorism Wednesday as the price of restoring the feud-ridden government of Socialist Bettino Craxi to power.
Craxi’s administration collapsed 13 days ago when Republican Party members of the coalition pulled out in protest over its release of PLO faction leader Abul Abbas, wanted in the United States for masterminding the Achille Lauro cruise ship hijacking, in which an American passenger, Leon Kling-hoffer, died.
The Republicans, led by Defense Minister Giovanni Spadolini, demanded a tougher stance on the PLO, with which Craxi had maintained unusually warm relations, a clear-cut policy against terrorism and closer consultation in major decisions as their price for returning to the coalition.
After days of negotiations and constitutional maneuvering, leaders of the five parties formally agreed Wednesday on a complex deal that Spadolini said satisfies the small party’s demands and probably will restore the old government to power within a week. Craxi in the meantime has been prime minister-designate.
Toughened Mideast Stance
The 11-page policy document agreed upon by the five parties considerably stiffens Italy’s old policy of simply asking that the PLO be included in any negotiations for peace between the Arabs and Israel.
The new policy would include the PLO in the peace process “only if it follows without reserve the path of peaceful negotiation.” Such a condition had never before been specified by the Craxi government, whose warm relations with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat before and during the Achille Lauro affair upset domestic critics such as Spadolini and angered Israel.
The statement also met Spadolini’s demands for closer consultation in future decision-making and for a clear policy concerning the fight against international terrorism.
Spadolini was outraged to learn of the release of Abbas from television news reports after the wanted man had fled from Italy. He complained bitterly that Craxi and Christian Democratic Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti had not even bothered to consult him.
He also disapproved of Craxi’s explanation that Italy could not detain the PLO official any longer because he carried an Iraqi diplomatic passport and was entitled to diplomatic immunity.
Significantly, the new government policy statement pledges Italy to “concerted actions” to withdraw such immunity from “people involved in terrorist activities.” In another possible reference to the Abbas case, the statement also commits Italy to “study the possibility of promoting new judicial instruments” that aid in the extradition and trial of “authors of acts of violence and terrorism.”
Spadolini called the statement “a proper balance which satisfies us.”
Craxi emerged from the meeting at which the five parties agreed on the policy statement saying, “We have overcome the government crisis.”
Constitutional experts said the crisis has, in effect, brought the government back to its status immediately before Spadolini resigned, causing the collapse. A provision of the constitution now permits Craxi to go to President Francesco Cossiga and withdraw the government’s resignation, then go to Parliament for a vote of confidence, expected by next Monday or Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Italy’s highest criminal tribunal Wednesday assigned the investigation and prosecution of the hijacking case to a court in Genoa--where the Achille Lauro pirates boarded the cruise ship--rather than to Syracuse, Sicily, near the airfield where their Egyptian flight to sanctuary was forced down by American jets.
The two cities have been involved in a jurisdictional dispute over who had judicial responsibility in the case.
Arrest warrants have been issued by Genoa prosecutors against seven Palestinians, including the four who actually hijacked the Achille Lauro, and an eighth warrant has been issued in Syracuse against Abbas on murder, kidnaping and arms charges.