In August 1979, Andrew Young lost his job as U.S. representative to the United Nations for violating American policy not to engage in diplomatic contacts with the Palestine Liberation Organization. But new evidence has emerged that Young wasn't alone in talking to the PLO at that time. John Gunther Dean, former U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, says that during the same year, he held frequent meetings with senior PLO officials in Beirut -- with authorization from then-Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. Indeed, in a series of recent interviews, Dean revealed that while heading the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon between October 1978 and June 1981, he held 35 officially sanctioned meetings with PLO officials. Dean claims that among his PLO contacts was Yasser Arafat's top aide, Khalil el-Wazir. This official, known as Abu Jihad, was in charge of PLO military operations and he was a special enemy of the Israelis (who assassinated him in Tunis last year). But Dean sees him differently. He describes Abu Jihad as "a soldier and a well-trained officer who kept his word with me and was helpful to the U.S." Dean recently left the State Department after serving as ambassador to five countries -- Cambodia, Denmark, India, Thailand and Lebanon. He says he decided to make public his PLO contacts because "the credibility of the PLO is in question" and he wants to bolster it by showing from his personal experience that there is "another side" to the PLO. The Dean contacts add a new chapter to the saga of America's secret relationship with the PLO during the 1970s and early '80s -- a period when the United States maintained an official policy of refusing to reocognize or negotiate with the guerrilla organization. Dean's revelations also help explain why Israel is so wary of American assurances in the current peace process. There's a fear in Jersualem that new American guarantees -- like the old policy of no contact with the PLO -- may prove unreliable. Cyrus Vance confirms in an interview that he authorized Dean's meetings with the PLO in Lebanon and says the purpose of the meetings was to discuss embassy security in Beirut and release of U.S. hostages in Iran -- but not to discuss political or diplomatic issues. Thus, argues Vance, the Dean meetings were not a violation of the pledge made to Israel by Henry Kissinger in 1975 not to negotiate with the PLO until it recognized Israel's right to exist, since there were no political discussions and it was political discussions that were banned. "There was a loophole," says Martin Indyk, head of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "These contacts were going on on 'security grounds.' " Indyk explains that successive American administrations looked on the 1975 Kissinger pledge as a restriction on their room to maneuver and tried continuously through various intermediaries to get the PLO to accept Kissinger's terms for U.S. recognition -- a process that finally culminated last December when Arafat publicly accepted U.N. resolutions 242 and 338 and Israel's right to exist. The Dean meetings, says Indyk, appear to be "the first case in which you have strong reason to believe {State Department officials} were maneuvering around the assurances." A source close to Kissinger puts it this way: "They {the State Department} were always maneuvering themselves around the agreement, into a position of contact with the PLO." (The CIA maintained its own secret contacts with the PLO on security issues during the 1970s, through a separate intelligence channel.) Dean speaks about the PLO's role in protecting him as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon as if he were describing a friendly foreign government, rather than a terrorist organization. Yet according to anti-terrorism experts, it was Arafat's group that just a few years earlier had murdered the American ambassador to Sudan, Cleo Noel, on March 2, 1973. "When I wished to travel through Lebanon to support orphanages {and} old-age homes, I worked with every faction including the PLO," says Dean. He recalls that he would tell the PLO where he wanted to go and "they'd advise whether this was safe or not and send an armed escort." The Dean channel played an important role after the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was seized in November 1979 and American diplomats were held hostage. Vance says he told Dean "to get the message to Arafat to help us get our hostages out." Arafat, eager to gain diplomatic credit for releasing hostages, soon went to work. Since the PLO was helping provide security for Ayatollah Khomeini at the time, "it was not irrelevant to be talking to them," says William Quandt, a former member of President Carter's National Security Council staff. Harold Saunders, who was assistant secretary of state for the Near East and South Asia during the Carter years, also confirms that there were meetings between U.S. officials and the PLO to discuss the hostage crisis. "The PLO had helped provide security for Khomeini's people in Paris and there was a senior PLO official in Tehran," says Saunders. He adds that the State Department "informed the government of Israel as to what we were doing." He says the hostage discussions were within the scope of the 1975 Kissinger commitment. With Arafat's help, says Vance, "we got 13 hostages out." The group, including five women and eight blacks, was released Nov. 19 and 20. Recalls Vance: "I sent my thanks to Arafat. I am very grateful we got 13 out." Saunders adds that after the 13 hostages were released, the Carter administration "continued to communicate with the PLO in regard to {the remaining} hostages." Dean says that Abu Jihad was deeply involved in the effort to release U.S. hostages in Iran. This humanitarian role was galling to some American and Israeli officials, who knew of Abu Jihad's role supervising Fatah's military and clandestine operations against Israel. According to Israeli sources, for example, Abu Jihad directed an attack against the Savoy Hotel in Tel Aviv in 1975 in which 11 Israelis were killed and an attack on a bus near Tel Aviv in March 1978 in which 33 Israelis died. He also controlled the PLO network on the West Bank and Gaza and the flow of PLO money to those regions. Dean says he was not the first American ambassador to deal with the PLO. "There had been cooperation before I came, especially in finding out about the assassination of Ambassador Meloy," he says. (Francis Meloy Jr. was serving as U.S. ambassador to Lebanon when he was killed on June 16, 1976, by a radical Palestinian faction, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.) According to Dean, Arafat's Fatah operatives helped recover the body. An important difference between the Dean contacts and Andrew Young's meeting with the PLO in New York, says Vance, was that the Young meeting wasn't authorized by the State Department, and that Young initially lied about it. "You can't have your own people not telling you the truth," says Vance. But Rep. Mel Levine of California takes a more critical view of the Dean contacts in Beirut. "You don't have 35 meetings that are not viewed as negotiations," he says, adding that when you "have an explicit policy on which a number of other assurances are based, people have a right to assume you are adhering to the policy. This {the Dean meetings} contravenes the policy of the U.S. government." An Israeli official questions whether the U.S.-PLO meetings even accomplished their goal of helping helped American security. "The value of American commitments is rather low," this official says. "Hypocrisy and diplomacy are traditionally European staples. The U.S. public wants straight talk and straight actions." Lally Weymouth writes regularly about foreign affairs for The Washington Post.