Tags: On-Off | Mideast | Meeting | Now

On-Off Mideast Meeting Now On

Tuesday, 25 September 2001 12:00 AM

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also agreed to a request by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he meet with visiting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, after the meeting was cancelled over comments Straw made regarding the causes of terrorism, while he was visiting Iran.

Straw, the first British foreign minister to visit Iran since the Islamic revolution in 1979, was in Tehran to aid in U.S. and British efforts to build an anti-terror coalition in the wake of the suicide terror attacks on the World Trade Towers and Pentagon.

The British minister, who will stop in Israel as part of a tour of the Middle East, was quoted on his first stop in an Iranian newspaper as saying that: "One of the factors that helps breed terror is the anger that many people in the region feel at events over the years in Palestine."

The visit and the comments created an uproar in Israel prompting Sharon's earlier cancellation of the meeting.

Israel's transport minister Ephraim Sneh, said that Straw's trip to Tehran, which had been coordinated with the Americans was "sticking a knife in Israel's back."

Foreign Ministry Director General Avi Gil expressed Israel's concern that Straw's statements could bring about an increase rather than a decrease in terrorism, "especially when published in Iran, a state that supports terror, whose official policy calls for the destruction of the State of Israel, and which actively supports terrorists."

Iran, which is on the State Department list of states that sponsor terrorism, backs the Hizballah in Lebanon, accused among other acts of the 1982 bombings of the U.S. Embassy and Marine Corps base in Beirut. It has also aided and encouraged radical Palestinian groups during the last year.

Nevertheless, the U.S. has been courting its support for the fight against terror.

The British Embassy in Tel Aviv later issued a statement saying that Straw's views on terrorism were well known. In it, he also condemned the murder of an Israeli woman on Monday and said there was "never any excuse for terrorism."

But he added, "there is an obvious need to understand the environment in which terrorism breeds. That is why the whole of the international community is so concerned to see a lasting peace in the Middle East."

Sharon's office issued a statement on Tuesday saying that the prime minister had expressed to Blair the "anger and disappointment" in Israel over Straw's comments.

"There is no difference between terrorism and terrorism, and murder is murder," Sharon said. "There are no terrorists who are good guys and every act of terror is horrific."

Sharon nevertheless agreed to meet Straw at Blair's request.

During the 15-minute conversation, Blair said that Sharon had told him that the forecast Peres-Arafat meeting would finally take place on Wednesday, ahead of the Jewish fast of Yom Kippur.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman would neither confirm nor deny the report but said that Israel "expected such a meeting [would] happen" at some time.

When the meeting does occur, the spokesman said, Israel expects a statement to be issued and that it would be the first in a series of at least three meetings.

The aim of the meeting is to "stabilize a ceasefire according the Tenet agreement and if it succeeds move on the implementation of the Mitchell report," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

The Tenet ceasefire, brokered by CIA chief George Tenet in June, is the first step in implementing recommendations made by a committee headed by former U.S. Senator George Mitchell, looking into the causes for the outbreak of violence last year.

The Mitchell report was eventually designed to lead to a resumption of political negotiations between the two sides.

Israeli and PA officials have already held discussions, according to media reports, and have come up with a document detailing steps that can be taken immediately by the two sides.

Sharon twice prevented the Peres-Arafat meeting from taking place due to a continuation of violence on the ground. It has been put off numerous times since the two agreed to meet last month.

Washington has been pressing both sides to convene the conference in order to get the issue out of the headlines, which the U.S. sees as a necessary step in encouraging Arab and Muslim states to join its anti-terrorism efforts.

Copyright 2001

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Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also agreed to a request by British Prime Minister Tony Blair that he meet with visiting British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, after the meeting was cancelled over comments Straw made regarding the causes of terrorism, while he was...
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2001-00-25
Tuesday, 25 September 2001 12:00 AM
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