The U.N. General Assembly voted 154 to 2 Friday to convene in Geneva on Dec. 13, a move that will allow the international body to hear Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat, who was denied entry to the United States last week.
As on Wednesday, when the Assembly adopted, 151 to 2, a resolution scoring the U.S. action and urging reconsideration, only Israel voted with the United States and only Britain abstained.
“Once again, within hours, the international body in this community has stood together for what is right against what is wrong,” said exultant PLO representative Zehdi Labib Terzi, who has not succeeded in marshaling such overwhelming support for a Palestinian issue since his organization achieved official observer status in 1974.
Seen as Embarrassment
The action, though not unexpected, was viewed universally as a major rebuke and embarrassment to the United States, which cited Arafat’s support for international terrorism in denying a visa to the PLO leader. Since the beginning of the dispute over Arafat’s entry, scores of delegates have openly criticized the reasoning behind the U.S. stand.
The fact that some of the staunchest U.S. allies--Western European nations, Japan and other Asian as well as Latin nations that usually have rallied to Washington’s aid--voted for the move made the result a stark defeat. Unlike past conflicts in which they differed--when these allies would abstain or be absent--there were only two absentees for Friday’s ballot.
Although none would speak on the record, allied diplomats strongly backed the principle that Arafat, as the head of a recognized observer group, should have been permitted to address the Assembly. There were no sympathizers for the U.S. position that a lower-ranking PLO representative could have done the job.
But Herbert S. Okun, deputy to U.S. Ambassador Vernon A. Wal ters, stood firm in defending the U.S. position and reiterated adamant opposition to the move.
“My government has already stated that we do not favor convening the General Assembly in Geneva to consider the question of Palestine,” Okun said. “Nonetheless, we have said we would not oppose such a move and that the United States would be represented if a meeting were to be held in Geneva.”
In brief comments before the vote was taken, Okun said he would oppose the resolution because it contained language critical of Washington’s refusal to grant an entry visa to Arafat, which he called a “justifiable decision.”
“The right of persons to enter the United States under Section 11 of the (U.N.) Headquarters Agreement is subject to the right of the United States to deny entry to individuals in order to safeguard our national security,” he added.
In reply to a formal request from U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, the State Department had said only that “we see no basis for changing our decision.” In Washington, a department spokesman said that there would be no further statement on the matter.
The only other comments in support of the U.S. decision--widely understood to have been taken by Secretary of State George P. Shultz over the objection of Walters and most of the highest-ranking State Department aides--came from Johanan Bein, Israel’s acting ambassador.
“This Assembly is asked to pack its bags and go to another continent for the dubious pleasure of lending an ear to the person who conceived, instigated and organized some of the world’s cruelest atrocities against the innocent citizens of many nations,” Bein declared.
But British Ambassador Crispin Tickell, who had abstained on the previous vote and explained that his government disagreed with the inclusion of criticism of Washington in a formal resolution, made no statement in Friday’s debate.
The move in mid-session will mark the first time since the world body entered its permanent headquarters in New York in 1952 that the Assembly will have met elsewhere. The 15-member Security Council, the U.N. political arm, has conducted sessions in Panama and in Africa, but putting the 159-member Assembly on the road is a much more complex operation.
Perez de Cuellar estimated the extra cost to the already threadbare budget at $440,700. A substantial part of the expense will be payment of one round-trip first-class air fare of $3,792 for each of the 40 poorest states, reaching a total of $151,700. These countries pay a minimal share of the organization’s regular budget, an annual assessment of $72,000.
An estimated 39 staff members from New York will travel to Geneva, along with 15 security agents.