Secretary of State James A. Baker III threatened Monday to withhold $73.8 million in U.S. contributions to the World Health Organization, a quarter of the U.N. agency’s budget, if the organization admits the Palestine Liberation Organization as a member.
“The United States vigorously opposes the admission of the PLO to membership in the World Health Organization or any other U.N. agency,” Baker said in a statement. “To emphasize the depth of our concern, I will recommend to the President that the United States make no further contributions, voluntary or assessed, to any international organization which makes any change in the PLO’s present status as an observer organization.”
The statement demonstrated the ambivalence in the U.S. attitude toward Chairman Yasser Arafat’s organization.
The Bush Administration has said that it intends to continue the diplomatic dialogue with the PLO that the Reagan Administration initiated last December because it believes the contacts may help advance the Middle East peace process.
However, Baker said that allowing the PLO into the health organization actually would harm the peace process, apparently by producing new tensions between the United States and Israel. Israel objects to any action that seems to confer legitimacy on the PLO.
State Department spokesman Margaret Tutwiler, who read Baker’s statement to reporters, said that the United States contributes 25% of the WHO’s budget. She said that the expected U.S. payment this year would be $73.8 million.
Tutwiler said that the United States already has told the WHO leadership and the member nations of the organization that it is determined to deny full membership to the PLO. She said that U.S. representatives delivered the same message to the PLO in a meeting Monday in Tunis, Tunisia, that focused on the PLO’s request for membership in the organization, which sponsors public health programs around the world.
The PLO applied for membership in the WHO earlier this year, shortly after it proclaimed an independent Palestinian state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel has complained that the PLO’s effort to join U.N.-affiliated organizations is intended to buttress its claim of statehood.
“In order to be a member, it’s my understanding, you have to be a state, and we do not . . . recognize them (the PLO) as a state, nor do we believe they meet the international criteria of being a state,” Tutwiler said.
Responding to a complaint by 38 senators led by Sen. Robert W. Kasten (R-Wis.), Baker last month announced that Washington will oppose PLO membership in any U.N. agency. However, he did not, at that time, threaten to withhold U.S. financial support from U.N. organizations.
In recent years, the Reagan Administration refused to pay some U.S. assessments to the United Nations and affiliated agencies in a dispute over the world organization’s budget policies. Washington also dropped out of the U.N. Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to protest what the United States claimed was an anti-Western bias. The United States has resumed paying its U.N. assessments, however.
Tutwiler said that the Administration has no objections to WHO programs as long as the organization refuses to permit PLO membership.
“We’re making our position very strongly known,” Tutwiler said, adding, "$73.8 million, that’s a lot of support.”
Asked if the Baker action would cripple an organization that sponsors Third World public health programs in an effort to block any implied recognition of a Palestinian state, Tutwiler said: “It’s a tough decision, but one that he is prepared to recommend to the President.”
Tutwiler suggested that if the WHO accepts the PLO as a member in spite of Washington’s economic sanctions, the Administration will find a way to put even more pressure on the agency.
“We’ve taken the first step here to reflect how seriously we oppose PLO admission as a member into the WHO and any other international organization,” she said. “This is a first step. It doesn’t foreclose other steps down the road.”
She declined to say what the additional steps might be.
In his statement, Baker said: “We have worked, and will continue to work, to convince others of the harm that the PLO’s admission would cause to the Middle East peace process and the U.N. system. Political questions such as this should not be raised in specialized agencies, because such politicization detracts from the important technical work of these organizations.”