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Meese Will Close PLO Mission : Decision Made Despite Resistance of U.N., State Dept.

February 10, 1988|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III will close the Palestine Liberation Organization's observer mission to the United Nations in New York despite reservations from the State Department and the U.N., congressional and other sources said today.

Meese concluded that legislation adopted by Congress last December should be binding on him even though the status of the mission under international law was unclear, the sources said.

At the Justice Department, a spokesman said an announcement on the decision was expected later today.

Meese, now in Spain, had planned to announce the decision on Friday or early next week, but the sources, demanding anonymity, told the Associated Press he had come down on the side of Congress even though Abraham D. Sofaer, the legal adviser at the State Department, had raised concerns about the impact.

U.N. Diplomats Surprised

Diplomats at the United Nations expressed surprise at the development.

"Oh, my God," exclaimed Cypriot Ambassador Constantine Moushoutas, chairman of the body's committee on relations with the host nation. "I believe that any attempt to expel the PLO will be opposed by the membership of the United Nations."

The PLO has had a mission at the United Nations for 13 years.

The PLO's information office in Washington was ordered closed last year by the department, but the House, by a 365 to 49 vote, and the Senate, by an overwhelming voice vote, insisted on closing the mission in New York as well.

The Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, headed by Assistant Atty. Gen. Charles Cooper, has ruled that the law Congress enacted late last year in this case is overriding, according to department sources who spoke on condition of anonymity.

'Vicious Terrorists'

Rep. Jack Kemp (R-N.Y.), who played a leading role in the congressional debate, wrote Meese recently that President Reagan had described the PLO as "the world's most vicious terrorist organization."

Kemp said "it would be establishing a dangerous precedent if we, as a government, conclude we are powerless to exclude a terrorist organization simply because it is here under the auspices of the United Nations."

This, Kemp said, would amount to "surrender of sovereignty piecemeal."

The move also had the support of Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.), another presidential aspirant, and on the Democratic side of Sen. Paul Simon of Illinois and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri, who are both seeking their party's nomination.

Bill Signed by Reagan

The congressional measure to close both the Washington and New York offices was attached in December to the two-year, $8.3-billion State Department spending bill that was signed by Reagan.

The PLO, which is headed by Yasser Arafat, has never been recognized by the United States. But at the United Nations, and in a number of foreign capitals, it is accorded diplomatic status as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Sofaer said his concerns were that the United States had a legal obligation to provide offices for observer missions to the United Nations "if we could find a way that's consistent with Congress' intentions."

A knowledgeable source, who demanded anonymity, said Meese's reasoning was that Congress passed the measure "fully cognizant" of the dispute over U.S. obligations to U.N. missions.

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