More than half of George Shultz's advisers warned him that the costs of denying a visa to PLO leader Yasser Arafat would outweigh the benefits, a State Department official says.
The secretary of state met last Friday with a half dozen of his top aides for one last discussion of the issue, said Arthur Berger, director of the Office of Public Affairs for the Bureau of Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs. Berger spoke Wednesday at the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics."I believe more than half of his senior people said that the down side of denying a visa to Arafat would probably be greater than allowing him to come into the United Nations to speak," Berger said.
"The secretary decided that it was worth whatever price, because it was important for the United States to take a leadership role and to stand by a principle of combatting terrorism."
Berger said Shultz and his advisers understood that the visa denial would probably be unpopular not only among Arab nations but among America's European allies. They discussed whether the move would be seen as an attempt to stifle free speech and to hinder Arafat's and the PLO's move toward moderation and a political resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At least four to five days of meetings were held before Shultz announced his decision, Berger said. "The down side was recognized very clearly, and one of the down sides is that we have become the issue."
But Berger said Shultz felt it was important to demand that Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization dissociate themselves entirely from the use of terrorism. While they have moved more toward the political center in the past year or two, there are still elements with a say in the PLO "that say terrorism is a valid means to political goals."
Asked why the United States admits people like Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, who also have a history of terrorist involvement, Berger said Israel is a member of the United Nations and as such has renounced the use of force and accepted "the international rules of the game." He said critics may disagree with how Israel plays those rules, but what its leaders did before the country joined the U.N. is in the past.
Berger told a Brigham Young University audience Tuesday that world debate over the visa denial is focusing on the wrong issue.
He said U.S. officials are not trying to prevent the PLO from expressing its views.
"The Palestinians and the Israelis have got to sit down and negotiate," Berger said, "and the role of the United States is to find a middle ground. The denial of the visa to Yasser Arafat does not change that, it just makes it clear that the parties of the conflict have to be sure of where they stand on an issue that is very important to the U.S., and that is terrorism."