TEL AVIV (Jan. 16)
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon, under fire from several quarters, has postponed his trip to Zaire “for a few days.”
Sharon was to have left last night for Kinshasa on a five-day official visit. Aides said he delayed his departure “because he had to be in Israel to deal with current matters” and that he had cabled President Mobutu Sese Seko to explain and apologize for the change of plans.
Informed sources here said Sharon postponed his trip because of rising tension with Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir and between their respective ministries. Foreign Ministry sources have accused Sharon of an “unwarranted attempt to gain personal publicity from the Israel-Lebanon talks.”
They were referring to the surprise press conference Sharon called at Kiryat Shmona last Thursday at which he claimed personal credit for the agreement reached between Israel and Lebanon on an agenda for their negotiations. According to Sharon, the terms of the agenda agreement were almost identical with an agreement he claimed he worked out weeks ago at secret talks with high Lebanese officials in Beirut.
WIDESPREAD CRITICISM OF SHARON
His hastily called press conference surprised journalists and irked the Foreign Ministry inasmuch as it was held almost simultaneously with the official press conference elsewhere in Kiryat Shmona at which the terms of the agreement were announced to the world media. The Israeli negotiating team is headed by David Kimche, Foreign Ministry director general and senior aide to Shamir.
Sharon was also sharply criticized by Knesset members for taking about 100 Herut party members on a tour of Israeli military positions in Lebanon last Thursday as guests of the Defense Ministry. Israeli civilians are presently barred from Lebanon. Reporters allowed into Lebanon by the army must wear flak jackets. It was not known whether the Herut politicians escorted by Sharon were required to wear the uncomfortable protective garments.
Further criticism of Sharon stems from his offer to take Israeli journalists free on his scheduled flight to Zaire. The critics recalled that journalists who accompanied Foreign Minister Shamir on his visit to Kinshasa last month all paid their own fare. Sharon said he offered a free flight after journalists complained of the high cost of air fare to Kinshasa — about $800.