WASHINGTON — The Reagan Administration still plans to challenge the legality of a measure requiring it to close the New York City office of the Palestine Liberation Organization, even though President Reagan has signed it into law, officials said Wednesday.
State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said that Administration officials will continue to negotiate with members of Congress over the terms of the PLO office shutdown order, which was mandated in an $8.3 billion bill authorizing operations of the State Deparment and related agencies in fiscal 1988 and 1989.
"We intend during the 90-day period before this provision takes effect to engage in consultations with Congress in an effort to resolve this matter," Oakley said.
The bill, which prohibits the establishment anywhere within the jurisdiction of the United States of an office "to further the interests of" the PLO, was signed Tuesday. The President said he signed it, despite his objections, because the State Department otherwise would have been forced to shut down.
Oakley argued that the requirement governing PLO offices violates both the President's inherent right to conduct U.S. diplomacy and U.S. obligations as host to the United Nations.
In the past, Administration officials have also argued against a shutdown of the PLO office, which is staffed by American citizens, on grounds that it would violate First Amendment free speech guarantees. But that argument was dropped after the State Department, anticipating the new law, ordered the PLO office in Washington to be closed.
Administration officials are known to believe that their argument against shutting down the office in New York is legally stronger because that is the host city of the United Nations, where the PLO has observer status.
In a statement issued by the White House on Tuesday, Reagan noted that the shutdown order was intended by Congress to prohibit U.S. diplomatic contact with the PLO.
"I have no intention of establishing diplomatic relations with the PLO," he said. "However, the right to decide the kind of foreign relations, if any, the United States will maintain is encompassed by the President's authority under the Constitution . . . to receive ambassadors."
A spokesman for Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Claiborne Pell (D-R.I.) predicted that the issue would have to be settled in court. Pell stated recently on the Senate floor that the measure could not be enforced if the courts ruled that it conflicts with U.S. legal obligations as U.N. host country. Administration officials viewed his statement as inviting a court challenge.