For the first time, a senior British official has met with a high-ranking representative of the Palestine Liberation Organization, a symbolic reflection of Britain's critical attitude toward Israel's invasion of Lebanon.
The terms of the meeting were carefully drawn to minimize the implications for British policy in the Middle East. The meeting last night between Douglas Hurd, who is the Foreign Office's second-ranking minister, and Farouk Kaddoumi, foreign affairs spokesman for the PLO, was not formally a bilateral session. Four other representatives of the Arab League were also present.
But the fact that a PLO representative was received at all by a government minister marked a shift in the British stance that had prevailed for decades. The Arab League had requested the meeting because of Britain's position as a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Officials said that Hurd sympathized with Palestinian aspirations for self-determination and supported the peace efforts of special U.S. envoy Philip C. Habib.
Britain has joined with other members of the European Community in condemning Israel's invasion of Lebanon. It has also announced a ban on any arms sales to Israel. Britain has declined to participate in any peace-keeping force for Lebanon on the grounds that its forces are already committed in the Falklands.