Former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger said yesterday that his meeting in November with a senior aide to Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat was not a diplomatic effort but an "inconsequential conversation" over coffee in a hotel lobby.
Kissinger said "there was no diplomatic effort at all" during what he described as a chance, 30-minute talk with Ahmed Dajani, an aide to Arafat, in Marrakech, Morocco.
"There was no secret meeting," Kissinger said, according to the Associated Press. He said the encounter took place "in front of hundreds of tourists" in the lobby of the Mamounia hotel and that he reported the encounter immediately to top Reagan administration officials.
State Department spokesman John Hughes said "we regret that Dr. Kissinger's activities have been mischaracterized" by an account of the meeting published yesterday in The Washington Post.
"Neither that conversation nor any of Dr. Kissinger's private activities have been a 'complicating factor' in our diplomacy or delayed the process," said Hughes.
The Post reported yesterday that Kissinger had met secretly with Dajani and that Jordan's King Hussein "testily demanded an explanation" of the meeting from U.S. officials.
As secretary of state, Kissinger was responsible for the pledge made to Israel in 1975 that the United States would not have formal contacts with the PLO until the organization accepts Israel's right to exist and accepts a U.N. resolution calling for Israel to return territories occupied in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war in return for a peace settlement.
The PLO has tried repeatedly to break through the Kissinger commitment of no direct talks, and The Post quoted qualified sources as saying that the Kissinger meeting appeared to Arafat to hold out hope he could achieve that "without having to make a deal" with Hussein. As a result, The Post story said, Arafat began delaying negotiations with Hussein.
Kissinger was quoted by the Associated Press as saying yesterday that Secretary of State George P. Shultz and William P. Clark, the president's national security affairs adviser, had known about the meeting since November and that he had seen them Wednesday. "They didn't express any concern," he said.
Kissinger said he did not regret the meeting with Dajani. "It was an inconsequential conversation. It could not have had any impact on the negotiations."