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Peres Enthusiastic About His Meeting with Biya: Israel-cameroon Relations Are Solid

An ebullient Premier Shimon Peres returned home Wednesday from his 36-hour visit to Cameroon, impressed by his meeting with President Paul Biya, moved by his welcome by thousands of Cameroonians, some of whom greeted him in Hebrew, optimistic about future economic, political and trade relations with the Black African nation, and looking forward to the renewal of relations shortly with several other African nations.

Speaking to reporters at Ben Gurion Airport, Peres said the Cameroon Embassy would be opened in Israel within three months, but its location has not yet been established. Biya announced Tuesday that his country was resuming diplomatic relations with Israel, 13 years after it broke ties after the Yom Kippur War.

The Premier, who visited Cameroon at the invitation of Biya and who is the first Israeli Premier to visit Black Africa since Premier Levi Eshkol was there 20 years ago, said that “from our point of view, it was an exceptional visit — according to the warmth of the reception, the participation of hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrated their deep friendship and warm feeling for the State of Israel.”

‘DEEPLY IMPRESSED’ BY COUNTRY AND LEADER

He said he was “deeply impressed both by the country and its leader, a country which is on the road to development, with a balanced budget, a growth rate of six percent this year and a relatively high standard of living.” Peres characterized Biya “as one of the most important leaders on the African continent. He is a man of deep knowledge, great restraint, much experience, and has a very special feeling of friendship toward Israel.”

Peres said he and Biya had three meetings, and that 12 working groups — six consisting of Israelis who had accompanied the Premier and six consisting of Cameroon government representatives selected by Biya — met Tuesday to mutually work out bilateral agreements in the fields of agriculture, industry, tourism, security and military.

The Israeli leader said that in his talks with Biya, “we reached a meeting of minds on the burning issues in the Middle East and in Africa. We agreed to enlarge and deepen the relations between the State of Israel and Cameroon. I am looking forward to the strengthening of relations with Cameroon and maybe to the extension of the renewal of diplomatic relations with other countries in Africa.”

ISSUE OF APARTHEID

Regarding South Africa’s policy of apartheid, Peres said he found Biya’s approach “uncompromising in principle, but very well measured in practice. That is to say, he is not swept along by notions of throwing the whites into the sea. Neither does he think a solution can be found overnight.”

Peres said that Biya also was not enthusiastic “about the two-faced policy conducted by some countries in the world (toward South Africa). However, he believes that there is no room for compromise on apartheid and that a solution must be reached gradually. He believes that this is possible.”

Regarding Israel’s attitude, Peres said “there is no need for any commitment, since Israel’s position on the issue of apartheid is unequivocal. I don’t think that Israel is or should be a leading country in formulating a policy toward South Africa.” This statement was similar to the one he made Tuesday to reporters in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon.

He said there: “We don’t feel it is for us to be making policy vis-a-vis South Africa. We are a party to world policy. We shall follow the resolutions, but I don’t think we have to take the lead in formulating a policy toward South Africa.” That does not mean that we are indifferent. A Jewish person could never support apartheid.”

Peres said that in the joint statement he made with Biya on this issue, both sides condemned apartheid and expressed concern over the events in South Africa. The Israeli leader said that “both sides had agreed to do everything to dismantle this odious system” but that “did not mean that Israel might be moving closer to any sanctions against South Africa. The traditional position of Israel is never to compromise with apartheid. But Israel has no ambition to be the leading country in cementing a policy toward South Africa. I think we have to remain true to our size, meaning that we are not a superpower.”

Biya did not express dissatisfaction with Israel’s position on South Africa, Peres said. “Not at all. He just asked me one question about the visit (earlier this month) of our economic delegation and I explained to him the purpose of the visit.”

BASIS OF DECISION TO RESUME RELATIONS

Peres said he and Biya discussed Arab reactions to Peres’ visit to Cameroon and the decision by Biya to resume diplomatic relations with Israel. Biya conceded that some Arab countries were not happy with this development, “but President Biya feels he represents a sovereign country and he doesn’t need the approval or permission of anyone else. I think that the President was very favorably impressed by the meeting in Morocco between King Hassan and myself.”

At a meeting with reporters Monday, Biya said that Cameroon’s decision to restore ties with Israel was the result of ongoing relations between the two countries during the past few years. According to Israeli officials, the two countries have had secret trade relations since 1981.

When Biya took power in 1983, Israel was allowed to establish an interest section in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. Since then, Cameroon re-evaluated the situation of Israeli-Black African relations, Biya said.

He noted that African nations broke relations with Israel because of its occupation of the Sinai Peninsula. However, now that Egypt and Israel have signed a peace treaty and Sinai has been returned, there is no reason for African nations not to resume relations with Israel, Biya said.

Cameroon is the fourth Black African nation — after Ivory Coast, Liberia and Zaire — to resume relations. Twenty-nine African countries severed ties with Israel under Arab pressure in the wake of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Only Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland continued relations.

Israel also has “semi-diplomatic” relations, at the interest section level, with the states of Gabon, Ghana, Kenya and Togo. Gabon and Togo are regarded in Israel as the most likely to resume full relations soon.

Peres said Biya had told him that other African countries were ready to renew relations with Israel. “He even told me about several Presidents who said, ‘Come, let us do this together’.” But Peres would not identify the countries or the Presidents.

ISRAEL AID TO DISASTER VICTIMS PRAISED

Peres said that Biya was very moved by Israel’s medical aid to the victims of the volcanic gas catastrophe near Lake Nios, about 240 miles northeast of Yaounde, in which an estimated 1,500 persons were killed. “He (Biya) went on television to say so — that without any request, and as a matter of fact, Israel was the first not only to suggest but to supply aid imediately to this very unfortunate event,” Peres said.

The Premier explained that he had learned about the disaster “just a day before we took off for Cameroon. We didn’t know exactly the size of it, but from the early information we understood that this was a very serious matter.

“So on the plane that took us to Cameroon, the Israel Army Medical Corps arranged to send a medical team and equipment. We had with us six physicians, ten medics, and four tons of equipment. We landed in Douala, which is the major port of Cameroon, and the doctors and medics took off immediately to the stricken area.”

Peres said he and his entourage had not heard from the doctors by the time they left Cameroon Tuesday for their 900-mile flight back to Israel. According to reports from Cameroon, the Israeli medical team had taken a long and difficult route to the stricken area and had not yet arrived there by nightfall Tuesday.

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