Spanish Leader Cancels Plans to Visit Israel on Mideast Tour
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Spanish Leader Cancels Plans to Visit Israel on Mideast Tour

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Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez Marquez of Spain apparently has canceled plans to visit Israel this fall, officials in Madrid confirmed over the weekend.

He acted contrary to the advice of his foreign minister, Francisco Fernandez Ordonez, sources there said.

The unexpected change of plans is the first serious break in the smooth pace at which Spain’s relations with Israel have progressed since Madrid established full diplomatic ties with the Jewish state early in 1986.

The visit was officially announced in Madrid and in Jerusalem when Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy visited Spain in July.

But Gonzalez’s heavy schedule, combined with unease over political developments in the Middle East, made it inappropriate at this time, Spanish officials said.

Although Fernandez urged him to stick to his original plans, the prime minister was advised by experts that a trip to Israel now would be harmful to Spain’s relations with the Arab states.

That was because Israel is seen here to be dragging its feet on the Middle East peace conference the United States and Soviet Union hope to convene by Oct. 31.

Fernandez himself flew to the Middle East last Friday, on behalf of the European Community, to try to shore up flagging Arab enthusiasm for the conference.

His itinerary includes Jordan, Syria and Iraq, but not Israel. Diplomatic sources said he would try to persuade the Syrians to attend the regional phase of the planned peace conference.

Damascus reportedly advised the United States last week that it has decided not to attend the parallel multinational talks with Israel on such regional problems as water resources, economic development and security issues.


Those talks were intended to take place while Israel was engaged in direct bilateral peace negotiations with individual Arab states and the Palestinians.

American and European diplomats fear that if the Syrians demur on that phase, Israel might refuse to attend the conference entirely.

Fernandez is also expected to stress to the Arabs that the E.C. countries would be ready to back up any progress toward peace with massive economic assistance to the entire region.

Meanwhile, although Gonzalez’s trip to Israel could be rescheduled, its cancellation for the time being almost certainly means that King Juan Carlos will not make a state visit to Israel next year.

Spain had intimated to Israel when Levy was here that the king would visit Jerusalem at the end of March 1992. The royal visit was to be symbolic of Spain’s reconciliation with the Jews 500 years after it expelled them.

Last week in New York, accepting an award for tolerance from the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, the Spanish monarch failed to mention Jews at all, in his address to an audience that included opera stars, royalty and Jewish leaders who had come from Madrid and Barcelona especially for the occasion.

Another symbol that seems to have gone sour is the projected Israeli pavilion at Expo ’92, the international exposition to be held in Seville next year to mark the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage of discovery.

The Israelis delayed starting its construction for financial reasons. Now legal and practical problems have arisen which make Israel’s participation in Expo ’92 all but impossible.

The Israelis have not met several deadlines for presenting their plans and completing major construction work on the exposition grounds.

Another snag is the lawsuit brought against the Israeli government by the architect hired to design the pavilion, for dropping his plans when it seemed that he might have received preferential treatment.

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