Nation/World

Clinton Welcomes Arafat Plo Leader Wins Promise Of International Aid

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, the terrorist who came in from the cold, was rewarded with his first Oval Office meeting Wednesday in recognition of the PLO’s termination of its 32-year war against Israel.

“I want to applaud the action that Chairman Arafat has taken in keeping the commitment,” said President Clinton, sitting beside the beaming Palestinian leader. “I think that was applauded by all Americans.”

Twice before Arafat has come to the White House to sign peace accords. But this visit marked a new stage in U.S.-Palestinian relations, coming exactly a week after the Arafat-led PLO revoked its charter mandate for the destruction of Israel.

After the 45-minute meeting, Arafat said Clinton had agreed to set up a joint U.S.-Palestinian Commission on the economic needs of the Palestinians, including the collection of nearly $2 billion worth of international aid that had been promised. Wednesday, he obtained a $20 million loan from the World Bank.

But Arafat later invoked his famously fiery rhetoric to charge Israel with imposing “a very serious economic siege” on Palestinians by closing its borders in the wake of terrorist attacks.

Saying that the closure threw 120,000 Palestinians out of work at a cost of $6 million daily, Arafat told a National Press Club audience, “It is resulting in a collective punishment, economic difficulties for our people.” Arafat predicted that an independent Palestinian state would be created by the end of the century, saying: “It is coming. No one can hide the sun with his fingers.”

And Arafat brushed aside Israeli objections to the Palestinian goal of having Jerusalem as the capital of its new state.

Clinton chose not to comment on the issues of independence or Jerusalem, saying only, “I believe that those matters are going to have to be worked out by the parties in the region.”

A new round of peace talks is set to begin Sunday.

Asked about the Senate’s unanimous vote to demand the extradition of Abu Abbas, the mastermind of the Achille Lauro hijacking, Arafat said, “We should not forget that Abu Abbas came … and voted to change the covenant of the PLO and to support the peace process.”

But not everybody here celebrated Clinton’s decision to receive Arafat in the Oval Office.

“I certainly wouldn’t invite him to my office,” Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y., said. “We all have to approach his leadership with caution. Seeing him here doesn’t make many of us feel terrific.”

White House spokesman David Johnson said the Israeli-Palestinian talks “will not go like lightning. Things take time in the Middle East.”

Summing up Arafat’s visit, Johnson said, “The real significant aspect of this meeting is it took place. The extraordinary has become the ordinary.”

Israel’s ruling Labor party last week dropped its opposition to a Palestinian state. Clinton did not repeat U.S. policy against statehood or his own stand four years ago that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital.

Arafat was driven to the White House in a black Cadillac limousine. He entered the mansion past motionless U.S. Marine guards. His beard, the joy of editorial cartoonists for years, was trimmed, his checkered Arab headdress in place.

“It is a very important opportunity to speak about how to push forward, how to strengthen more and more the peace process,” Arafat said.

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