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Stalled peace talks may affect Israeli-Japanese economic ties

JERUSALEM, Aug. 26 (JTA) — Tensions in the Middle East are much on the minds of leaders in the Far East. During a three-day trip to Japan this week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeatedly was told by Japanese officials that closer economic ties between Japan and Israel would depend on breaking the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian peace process. In a two-hour meeting with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto on Monday, the Japanese leader told Netanyahu that Tokyo was looking for advances in the peace process so that Arabs could end their “pessimism,” according to Japanese officials. During his visit, which was aimed at strengthening economic ties with Japan, Netanyahu encountered criticism from officials in the face of Israel’s ongoing closure of the territories. Netanyahu countered that the closure was a necessary security measure in the wake of a July 30 twin suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 14 Israelis. Netanyahu also said that while Japan had some reservations, “it has not linked Israeli-Japanese economic ties or their development to our closure policy.” But senior Japanese officials were quoted in Israeli media this week as saying that Tokyo was linking closer economic ties with Israel to progress on the peace track. In contrast, a senior political source in Netanyahu’s delegation was quoted by Israel Radio as saying that Japan’s foreign minister had told Netanyahu that Tokyo had made a strategic decision to accelerate economic cooperation with Israel. Netanyahu, who was accompanied by Finance Minister Ya’acov Ne’eman and a contingent of 16 Israelis representing high-tech businesses, was scheduled to visit South Korea after leaving Japan Tuesday. During a refueling stopover Sunday in Beijing, Netanyahu met with China’s deputy prime minister, Li Lanqing. After that meeting, Netanyahu said that Li had assured him that China would not help Iran build a nuclear reactor. Netanyahu said Tuesday that he viewed the assurance as a positive sign for Israeli-Chinese relations and regional arms control. China has not yet commented directly on the meeting. Asked whether any such assurances were given to Netanyahu, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry said only that Beijing did not “advocate, encourage, or assist” in the spread of nuclear technology.