ATHENS (Nov. 23)
Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres arrived here Tuesday on the first leg of a visit to several European capitals this week.
Peres’ visit here, which was planned to last a little more than a day, is the first ever to be made by an Israeli foreign minister.
During his stay, Peres met with Greek Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou, who was just returned to power; Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias; and with the deputy foreign minister in charge of European Community affairs, Theodore Pangalos.
The visit is particularly important because Papandreou, in his earlier stint as prime minister, maintained a government that was hostile to Israel and laudatory of the Palestinian cause.
Peres and Pangalos held a joint news conference at which Pangalos said that Greece, which will be presiding over the E.C. starting in January, will do everything it can — including providing financial aid — to facilitate the self-rule accord signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in September.
But the real question on everyone’s minds here was whether Peres will meet with PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, who was scheduled to arrive here on Wednesday shortly before Peres leaves the Greek capital.
At a news conference following his meeting with Papandreou, Peres said, “We don’t have any plans to meet, but we are in permanent contact. So when we need to meet, why not?
“We are in touch by telephone and by meetings, so there is nothing unusual about it, but it is not in the program,” Peres said.
Pressed further about whether Israeli, Palestinian or Greek officials were urging such a meeting, Peres said, “No, no. Both of us are great travelers, so occasionally we cross each other at the same place. But there must be a special need to meet, and right now there is no need for it.”
When Peres was asked by an Arab correspondent why Israel is unwilling to return the entire Golan Heights in order to establish a peace agreement with Syria, he replied, “What Syria calls peace is a peace with no embassies, no free trade and no security arrangements.”
Prior to his departure Wednesday, Peres was to meet with the Jewish leadership here and with Constantine Mitsotakis, the former Greek prime minister, who made diplomatic ties with Israel a priority.