The State Department's director of Arabian Peninsula affairs has described some of the armed assaults against Israel by the Palestine Liberation Organization as "legitimate actions of resistance."
Gordon S. Brown, in a televised broadcast Monday to the Gulf region, said the acts were part of the 40-year Arab-Israeli conflict and different from assaults by Palestinians against innocent civilians in third countries.
Brown was interviewed on Worldnet, a program sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency. In response to a reporter's inquiry, Michael Austrian, a department spokesman, said today that the official's remarks "did not represent U.S. government policy."
Yossi Gal, a spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, said his government had complained about Brown's remarks to the State Department and asked for an explanation.
Efforts to reach Brown by telephone were unsuccessful.
Brown was questioned for 40 minutes via satellite by two reporters from Dubai about, among other things, the U.S. stance toward terrorism.
On terrorism, he said framing a definition was difficult because there was "a considerable difference" between groups such as the one headed by Palestinian Abu Nidal and "freedom fighters" like the contra rebels in Nicaragua and the insurgents in Angola led by Jonas Savimbi.
Brown said Nidal's group operates outside "battle zones," attacking civilians in third countries and hijacking commercial passenger planes and ships. The contras and Savimbi rebels, he said, "are not conducting what we call acts of terrorism" and are fighting on Nicaraguan and Angolan soil.
Asked about Israeli bombings of Beirut, which Jerusalem has said were designed to wipe out Palestinian guerrilla bases in and near the Lebanese capital, Brown said, "It's terrorism to the same degree that Katyusha rockets (fired on towns in northern Israel) are. There is a state of war. . . . "
The State Department official said the attacks were "regrettable" and also "part and parcel of the continuing state of hostilities" between the Arabs and Israel.
Brown then went on to say, under questioning, "I don't want to get into a long discussion of the meaning of terrorism. Some PLO actions I would expect would fall within our definition of legitimate actions of resistance within occupied territories. Others clearly . . . would not."
He cited as an example of the latter the attack by Palestinian gunmen on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympic Games in Munich, West Germany. Eleven Israelis were killed. Brown said they were "innocent people in third countries."