Associated Press

October 25, 1994

VATICAN CITY (AP) -- The Vatican established official ties Tuesday with the PLO, strengthening its claim to a voice in the Middle East peace process and on the future of Jerusalem.

In 1982, Pope John Paul II drew sharp protests from Israel when he received PLO leader Yasser Arafat at the Vatican. At the time, Israel branded Arafat a terrorist.

But Israel and the PLO have since signed a peace treaty and the Vatican recognized Israel 10 months ago.

Tuesday's agreement calls for an office of representation of the Palestine Liberation Organization at the Holy See. The papal envoy in Tunisia, where the PLO has its headquarters, will be responsible for contacts with the PLO.

The move falls short of full diplomatic relations.

A joint statement, released by the Vatican, said the agreement will enable the Roman Catholic Church to carry out its

The announcement came a day before Israel and Jordan are scheduled to sign a peace treaty. The Vatican also established relations with Jordan this year.

The statement said the two sides committed themselves to cooperate in preserving the "religious and cultural values" of the Holy Land, particularly Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, holy to Christians, Muslims and Jews, is one of the most sensitive issues of the peace process.

Israel, which seized Arab east Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war, claims the entire city as its capital. Palestinians also want Jerusalem to be the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro said the Vatican has not changed its position regarding Jerusalem. The Vatican has long sought some form of international guarantee for the holy sites.