U.S. Confirms 2 Sessions With Arafat’s No. 2 Aide
The Bush Administration, expanding its talks with the Palestine Liberation Organization, has held two unannounced meetings with the second-in-command to Yasser Arafat, the State Department confirmed Thursday.
U.S. officials said the purpose was to explore prospects for holding elections among the 1.7 million Palestinian Arabs who live under Israeli control on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.
But the secret sessions in Tunis, Tunisia--one Monday and the other on an earlier occasion--nonetheless touched off a furor among supporters of Israel in Washington.
Moshe Arad, Israeli ambassador, called on Assistant Secretary of State John H. Kelly to register his government’s “regret” and “disappointment.” A spokesman for Arad said PLO terrorist activity escalated even as the United States stepped up its six-month dialogue with Arafat’s organization.
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Connie Mack (R-Fla.) wrote Secretary of State James A. Baker III that “it is incomprehensible to me that the Administration would escalate its contacts with the PLO without any consultation with Congress or any improvement in PLO behavior.”
Mack urged Baker to suspend all contact with the PLO until Congress can “fully review this matter in hearings and in appropriate committees.”
There was no immediate word on the outcome of the meetings between Robert H. Pelletreau Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Tunisia, and Salah Khalaf, known also as Abu Iyad, who serves as Arafat’s security chief.
According to a State Department document, Terrorist Group Profiles, the Fatah faction of the PLO, of which Khalaf is a senior official, rejects the 1978 Camp David accords, which produced a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in 1979.
Its political objective, the document says, is formation of an independent, secular Palestinian state. “Originally committed to recapturing all of Palestine, but now (it) may accept a state based on a Gaza-West Bank formulation,” the description of Fatah said.
A State Department spokesman, Adam Shub, and other U.S. officials said Pelletreau’s two meetings with Khalaf does not reflect any change in U.S. policy.
“Ambassador Pelletreau is our authorized channel for conducting the U.S. dialogue with the PLO and as such he may meet with PLO officials,” Shub said.