A U.S.-hosted meeting of foreign ministers from the 31 members of the Organization of American States, scheduled to begin Nov. 9 in San Francisco, may be called off because the State Department says it cannot afford the $900,000 needed for security and hospitality arrangements.
Meetings of the OAS General Assembly, held annually since 1970, often have been largely ceremonial. But this year's session is regarded as potentially important because it is to start two days after the Nov. 7 deadline for implementing the five-nation Central American peace plan.
Secretary of State George P. Shultz has said several times that the OAS meeting, which would bring together foreign ministers from all parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, would provide an important forum for assessing progress made toward achieving the agreement's goals.
During last year's meeting in Guatemala, Shultz invited the OAS to hold the 1987 session in San Francisco as the guest of the United States. However, State Department officials said yesterday, severe cuts being made by Congress in the department's budget caused Shultz to decide that he cannot justify the $700,000 to $900,000 in costs.
OAS officials said that the assemblies, in their early years, were held at OAS headquarters in the Pan American Union here. They added that the OAS has reverted to that practice from time to time and would probably do so this year if the United States cancels the invitation to San Francisco. However, they said, a cancellation at this late date might cause postponement of the assembly, now scheduled Nov. 9-15.
The State Department, anticipating a shortfall of about $84 million in congressional appropriations for fiscal 1988, tentatively is preparing to absorb the blow by eliminating more than 1,200 Foreign Service and Civil Service jobs and adopting such other cost-slashing measures as closing two small embassies and 13 consulates.
Officials said that with so many people in danger of losing their jobs, Shultz is reluctant to go to San Francisco for what many might see as a round of diplomatic parties.
According to the officials, the situation has caused intense debate within the department. They said some of Shultz's advisers agree that the OAS meeting is a luxury the department can do without under current circumstances.
Others, however, argue that if the United States rescinds its invitation on such short notice, the action would be perceived throughout Latin America as a sign of diminished U.S. interest in regional efforts on such problems as Central American tensions, foreign debt and narcotics traffic. In addition, these officials reportedly have said, it would be a major embarrassment for one of the world's richest nations to plead poverty when countries that are much smaller and poorer have taken turns as host.
Officials said that Shultz has asked the National Security Council to consider the matter within the next few days and decide whether the administration should pay for the meeting. Testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee yesterday, Shultz referred to the situation obliquely when, in a discussion of U.S. diplomatic contacts in Central America, he said, "The OAS General Assembly will take place next month if we can find the funds to hold it."
The United States hosted the assembly once before, in 1974 in Atlanta. Other recent assemblies have been in Cartagena, Colombia, in 1985, and the Brazilian capital of Brasilia in 1984. It has been traditional for the secretary of state and the foreign ministers of other member states to attend the opening sessions.