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Talks with Arafat Tied to Bid by Costa Rica for U.N. Council

A recent meeting between Costa Rica’s ambassador to Israel and Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat may have as much to do with the United Nations as aiding the Palestinians.

The Aug. 4 meeting in Jericho was the first high-level meeting between a representative of the pro-Israel Central American country and a Palestinian leader.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Fernando Naranjo said Ambassador Manuel Lopez expressed to Arafat Costa Rica’s support for the Middle East peace process and offered the Palestinians aid in establishing a preventive health care system.

Naranjo said the meeting did not represent a step toward establishing diplomatic relations with the Palestinian Authority, although he did rule out the possibility of the Palestinians opening an interests office here.

Since casting the deciding U.N. vote in 1948 in favor of establishing the State of Israel, Costa Rica has enjoyed close ties with Israel and is only one of two countries maintaining its embassy in Jerusalem.

In April, however, Costa Rica joined in a U.N. vote condemning Israel for its bombing raids in southern Lebanon. It was the first time Costa Rica had cast a vote against Israel.

Israeli officials at the time blamed Costa Rican aspirations to win a seat on the U.N. Security Council for the vote.

A Costa Rican diplomatic official said last week’s meeting with Arafat was done with the campaign for a U.N. Security Council seat in mind.

“This cannot hurt our election possibilities,” the official said.

Jamie Weisleder, president of the Costa Rican Israeli-Zionist Center, said “there is no change in Costa Rica-Israel relations per se,” but Costa Rica has taken steps recently regarding the Middle East that are linked to its quest for a U.N. Security Council seat.

“It leaves me with a certain amount of hesitation but I feel things will return to normal after the elections” for the security council in December, he said.

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