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Meese Delays Announcement on Future of PLO Office in N.Y.

February 11, 1988|ROBERT L. JACKSON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III ordered the Justice Department on Wednesday to delay an announcement on the closing of the Palestine Liberation Organization's observer mission in New York after State Department officials and Arab-American groups strongly objected to the plan.

Meese, who was in Spain, told aides that no decision will be made until after he returns to Washington next week and that he plans further discussions with the White House on the controversial proposal, a department official said. The department had indicated earlier that an announcement was planned Wednesday.

The Justice Department and the State Department are at odds over the closing, which was mandated by Congress in the $8.3-billion bill authorizing the operations of the State Department and related agencies for fiscal 1988 and 1989.

Congress intended the measure as a slap at an organization linked to international terrorism, but the State Department has expressed concern that it might violate U.S. host country obligations to the United Nations. While the PLO office in Washington already has been shut down, the one in New York might be considered similar to the formal U.N. missions maintained by many countries there. Those missions are guaranteed freedom to operate without U.S. interference, some officials maintain.

The department has asked for time to consult with members of Congress to resolve any legal problems. The bill gives the government until late March to carry out the order.

However, the Justice Department, which is charged with the duty of closing the office, has indicated that it is ready to proceed.

Charles Redman, the State Department spokesman, said Wednesday that his department has advised Justice Department lawyers on matters of international law arising from such a closing, but he declined to discuss any disagreement between the two departments.

An Arab representative in the United States said that Arab members of the United Nations will press to transfer the U.N. General Assembly from New York to Geneva if the United States moves against the PLO observer mission. Ambassador Clovis Maksoud, who represents the Arab League both in Washington and at the United Nations, said that of the 159 U.N. members, 145 voted for the original resolution allowing the observer mission a decade ago.

M. T. Mehdi, president of the American-Arab Relations Committee, said in New York that such a closing "violates the international treaty obligations of the United States and will create the image of the 'Ugly American' " in many foreign countries.

Times staff writers Don Shannon and Jim Mann contributed to this story.

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