Denial of observer status for the Palestine Liberation Organization at next month's annual joint meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund could put a serious crimp in long-range plans by both organizations to borrow money from Arab nations, officials said privately yesterday.
In particular, the decision by the Bank and IMF -- under pressure from the United States -- cast a shadow over a money-gathering trip planned for later this month by IMF Managing Director Jacques de Larosiere to Saudi Arabi, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
For the moment, observer status for the PLO is postponed at least until March 1981. But officials frankly say they see no solution in view even then.
On July 25, the World Bank's board of directors approved procedural resolution by voice vote to limit observer status at the 1980 joint meeting to those who were present at the 1979 meeting in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Four days later, the IMF board adopted the identical resolution.
Since the PLO had failed, in an on-the-spot effort, to attain observer status at Belgrade, that settled the issue for this year.
But Saudi Arabi and Kuwait struck back swiftly. The Saudis postponed a $402 million loan to the bank, and the Kuwaitis barred a Kuwait company from participating in underwriting a $86 million share of bond purchases by West Germany. Bank officials insist that the $402 million Saudi loan is merely postponed, not canceled.
In Kuwait, Finance Minister Abdel Rahman Atiqi spoke of a "freeze" of leading to the bank by both his county and Saudi Arabia, and press comments made it clear that Arab officials blame the United States for the impasse.
Carter administration officials fear that if the PLO is allowed into the meetings in the company of international organizations such as the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development and the Bank for International Settlements, the already difficult task of getting congressional appropriations for the World Bank and IMF will be multiplied.
Liberal and pro-Israeli members of Congress, administration officials say, will join an already powerful congressional bloc of conservatives, who regard all Imf and World Bank commitments as "foreign aid."
Beyond that, the Carter administration, already fearing that its support among Jewish voters in this country is eroding, is anxious to avoid yet another irritating symbol of growing PLO influence in international organizations.
The underlying strategy evolved by the IMF for confronting the growing balance of payments deficits among less developed countries is to add to its resources by heavy borrowing from Arab countries with surpluses.
This policy was initiated at the IMF Interim Committee meeting in Hamburg last April and ratified by the IMF executive directors just a few weeks ago.
Larosiere hoped to get multibillion-dollar commitments for loans over the next three years from the three countries he plans to visit, plus Iraq. Failure to come up with $2 billion to $3 billion in advances in each of the next three years would limit severely the IMF's ability to tide the poorer oil-consuming countries over their red-ink problems.
At Belgrade last year, the IMF and World Bank brushed the PLO problem under the rug by appointing a committee of eight governors -- four from the industrialized world and four from the poorer world -- headed by New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon, to report recommendations to the chairman-to-to-be for the 1980 meetings, Tanzanian Finance Minister Amir Jamal.
When the Muldoon commission in June split 4 to 4 (with the industrialized nations against and the less industrialized nations for admission of the PLO as observers), Jamal announced that on his own initiative he would extend an invitation to the PLO.
The United States and other countries, claiming Jamal was about to exceed his authority, took the issue to the IMF and World Bank executive directors. But the United States was anxious to avoid a record vote that might inhibit the several developing countries willing to take an anti-PLO stance.
With the support of World Bank President Robert S. McNamara, the executive directors adopted a resolution taking into their own hands the decision on observer status, temporarily freezing the observer list.