Washington Peace Talks Postponed As Syria Threatens to Boycott Them

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is playing down Syria’s threat to boycott the peace talks in Washington.

But at the same time, he acknowledged Sunday that Israel’s first priority at this point is to implement the self-rule accord signed with the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Rabin’s remarks came within hours of an announcement here that the United States would postpone the next round of bilateral peace talks, which had been scheduled to begin next week, until the end of November.

The prime minister, who spoke at Ben-Gurion Airport upon his return from a trip to the Far East, said he believed Israel and Syria should speak directly to each other outside the framework of the bilateral talks.

The accord that Israel signed with the PLO on Sept. 13 came as the result of back-channel talks that had been held in secret over the preceding several months in Oslo, Norway.

Rabin refused to respond to recent Syrian criticisms of the peace talks in Washington and of the secret manner in which Israel and the PLO reached their accord.

“I don’t want to comment about threats or (attaching) conditions to the continuation of the peace negotiations,” the prime minister said, adding that Israel is committed to the talks.

But, alluding to Israel’s plans to start implementing the accord with the PLO, Rabin added, “I believe that from Israel’s point of view, we have to prove in the coming months that once an agreement is signed, it is implemented. The purpose is not just to reach an agreement on paper.”

During a visit to Cairo over the weekend, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said that Syria would not go to Washington “to participate in sterile and non-profitable talks.”

“We will only go when the Israelis show they are serious about achieving results,” Sharaa said after a 90-minute meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

STOPS IN JAKARTA, SINGAPORE, NAIROBI

Sharaa said he told Mubarak that there had been no progress to date in the Washington talks.

In fact, diplomats from the region are said to believe that Israel and Syria are already holding secret talks in Europe, modeled on the secret talks in Oslo that bore fruit with the PLO.

Following his comments at the airport Sunday, Rabin proceeded to the weekly Israeli Cabinet meeting, where he briefed members on his trip to the Far East. He spoke about his five-day visit to China and surprise trips to Indonesia, Singapore and Kenya.

Rabin met with President Suharto of Indonesia, the largest Islamic state. Indonesia, which heads the Organization of Non-aligned States, does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Indonesian officials said the meeting with Rabin did not mean they were planning to establish relations with Israel, although they did say that the openness of the session clearly was new.

In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, Rabin said it was important to get the message across to the non-aligned nations about “the opportunities for cooperation with Israel.”

“It is necessary to get international support for the peace process and bilateral support from these countries.” he said.

In Singapore, Rabin met and discussed the PLO accord with regional leaders, who expressed the hope that the meeting with the Israeli leader would spur better relations between Israel and Muslim countries.

The prime minister also stopped in Nairobi for a 90-minute meeting.

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