U.S. blocks PLO attempt to upgrade U.N. standing

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The United States has successfully staved off a move to treat Yasser Arafat as a head of state when the United Nations celebrates its 50th anniversary in October.

Palestine Liberation Organization officials had apparently attempted to use the special sessions, slated for Oct. 22-24, to upgrade their status at the United Nations from observer mission to nation state.

"One of our concerns was that the PLO not use its participation in the anniversary to seek to change its status as an observer organization," said Robert Pelletreau, assistant secretary of state for Near East and South Asian affairs.

The administration "did safeguard against that possibility," Pelletreau told the House International Relations Committee on Wednesday of last week.

The PLO observer at the United Nations had sought approval from the General Assembly to allow Arafat to speak as a head of state.

However, U.N. member states rejected the request, according to a spokesman for the Israeli mission to the United Nations.

"Chairman Arafat would not enjoy a co-equal status as a head of state," Pelletreau said in Washington, D.C. "We have acted in a way that preserves the distinction, and the PLO will be in the category of an observer status."

As a result, Arafat, who drew the first day in the lottery that determined the speaking order for world leaders, will speak toward the end of the first day.

According to U.N. protocol, heads of state speak first, followed by vice presidents, crown princes or princesses and then heads of government.

Officials of observer states or organizations, such as Switzerland, the Vatican and the PLO follow.

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was not "as lucky" in his lottery drawing, according to the Israeli official, is slated to address the special session of the General Assembly Oct. 24.