WASHINGTON — The head of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Washington office said Wednesday that he will sue to block the State Department from shutting down his operation and vowed, "I will not leave."
"I will not abandon my rights to freedom of speech and freedom of expression," said Hassan Rahman, director of the Palestinian Information Office, which the department said Tuesday must close within 30 days.
The order sparked an uproar among civil libertarians, Arab leaders and Arab-Americans, who said they would wage an intensive lobbying campaign to keep the office open.
Meantime, Robert Clarke of the National Assn. of Arab-Americans released a May 13 letter from a State Department official that appeared to contradict Tuesday's decision.
The "continued existence" of the PLO office here "neither reflects nor requires the approval of the U.S. government," wrote James A. McVerry, political officer for Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
The letter said that as long as the PLO office adheres to the Justice Department's Foreign Agents Registration Act, it is "entitled to operate under the protection provided by the First Amendment of the Constitution."
Barry Lynn, legislative counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union, called the shutdown order a "naked assault" on the constitutionally protected rights of freedom of speech.
The State Department decided to close the office in a demonstration of U.S. concerns over terrorism, which had been committed by "some groups and individuals associated with the PLO," according to spokesman Charles Redman.
To close the Washington office, the department declared it a "foreign mission" controlled by the PLO. Then the department, which oversees such missions, authorized the closure. The PLO will be allowed to maintain its office in New York, which has "observer status" at the United Nations.
Rahman, who employs about eight people in his small office a few blocks from the White House, said he spends much of his time delivering speeches around the country.