Israel Still Pressing for Talks to Be Held Closer to the Mideast

Israel is making it clear that it wants the next round of talks with the Arabs to held in the Middle East.

But Israeli negotiators stopped short of saying flatly they would not return to Washington.

The demand for moving the talks to the region was raised by Israel in its separate talks with Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and the Palestinians.

Yosef Ben-Aharon, head of the Israeli delegation for talks with Syria, said that Israel had come to Washington in December and this month, despite its belief that the talks should be held in the region.

He said that Israel asked again Tuesday that the talks be moved to the countries involved. If that is unacceptable, then Israel could offer a list of 10 other possible places in the region, he said.

The Syrians replied that they could come up with a list of 10 places and all of them would be Washington, Ben-Aharon reported.

Hanan Ashrawi, the spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation, also said the talks should remain in Washington until some accomplishments have been achieved.

But Ben-Aharon said that unlike the Palestinians, most of the Israeli negotiators are high-level government officials who have work in Jerusalem waiting for them.

“We love Washington,” said Yosef Hadass, co-chairman of the Israeli delegation for talks with Lebanon. “But we find it not very convenient to be far away from where we live.”

Hadass is also director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Ben-Aharon is director general of the Prime Minister’s Office and Elyakim Rubinstein, who is heading the talks with the Palestinians, is the Cabinet secretary.

The Israelis continued to insist that their plan was to leave Washington after another round of talks Wednesday. But they left open the possibility that they would stay longer.

Meanwhile, Israel began its first official talks with separate Jordanian and Palestinian delegations Tuesday. But they have not yet gotten down to substance. The two sides were unable to reach agreement on an agenda, Ben-Aharon said.

During Israel’s talks with Lebanon on Tuesday, Lebanese negotiators raised the subject of Israel’s attack last Friday on a Palestinian terrorist target south of Beirut.

Uri Lubrani, co-chairman of the Israeli delegation for talks with Lebanon, said he expressed “sorrow” for any casualties caused by the Israeli raid. But he stressed that Israel would continue to take action to preserve its security along the border with Lebanon.

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