Peres to Visit Prague and Cairo, Usurping Likud Foreign Policy Role

Vice Premier Shimon Peres will pay official visits to Czechoslovakia and Egypt next week, his office announced Wednesday.

The Labor Party leader will be the first Israeli minister to go to Prague since the Czechs broke diplomatic relations with Israel in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.

He is scheduled to meet with Czechoslovakia’s new president, Vaclav Havel, and other senior officials.

Peres was invited to Cairo by the Egyptian government to review the state of the peace process. He will be talking with President Hosni Mubarak and Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid, who will be fresh from a series of meetings with Secretary of State James Baker in Washington this week.

Peres’ provocative venture into the foreign policy arena clearly does not sit well with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and the Likud-controlled Foreign Ministry.

Shamir’s aides said Wednesday that Peres informed the prime minister of his plans, which is all he is required to do under the unity coalition agreement.

But the Foreign Ministry apparently was neither consulted nor informed in advance.

The announcement of Peres’ travel plans came on the heels of an embarrassing lampoon of Foreign Minister Moshe Arens and his staff by one of Israel’s leading political columnists, Yoel Markus, writing in Ha’aretz on Tuesday.

It depicted a ministry that has lost control over foreign policy-making and the conduct of the country’s foreign relations.

WEIZMAN COUP IN MOSCOW

In light of the Markus piece, Peres can be seen as seizing the initiative.

It is he, not Arens, who is going to Prague shortly after the visit to Israel last week by a high-Israel Czech delegation that came here to discuss the resumption of diplomatic ties.

And he will be going to Egypt at a time when the diplomatic process has been stalled by what the Egyptians consider Shamir’s inflexibility over an Israeli-Palestinian dialogue.

Peres is not the only Laborite to seize the foreign policy spotlight.

Ezer Weizman, the minister of science and development who fared poorly in a confrontation with Shamir earlier this month, recouped some of his lost stature by having a two-hour meeting at the Kremlin last week with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

Weizman was the first Israeli received at so high a level since the Soviet Union broke with Israel more than 22 years ago.

He captured headlines afterward by announcing — without Kremlin confirmation — that the Soviets were prepared to resume diplomatic ties with Israel on the level of legations, only a degree below embassy representation.

Markus referred in his Ha’aretz column to Weizman’s Moscow trip, to remind readers that the head of the Israeli consular mission there, Arye Levin, was excluded by the Soviets from the Kremlin meeting, in an apparent slap at Arens.

Weizman’s trip to Russia, like Peres’ earlier visit to Poland, outflanked the Likud foreign minister, the Ha’aretz commentator said.

Other examples of Foreign Ministry disarray he mentioned were the continuing delay in naming a new ambassador to the United Nations because of Likud-Labor disputes, which also affect the selection of new envoys to Washington and Paris.

According to Markus, Arens is widely perceived to consider himself Shamir’s anointed heir.

While grooming for the prime ministerial job, he does not seem to be fighting to preserve, much less enhance, the Foreign Ministry’s scope of authority, the writer said.

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