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Yeltsin backs Palestinian state, but urges more talks with Israel

MOSCOW, April 6 (JTA) — Russia supports Palestinian statehood, but would like to see it emerge as a result of negotiations with Israel, President Boris Yeltsin told visiting Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat this week. Yeltsin said the negotiations should “meet the interests of all nations” in the Middle East, Sergei Prikhodko, a presidential aide, told reporters after Yeltsin hosted Arafat in the Kremlin on Tuesday, a day after the Palestinian leader arrived here. Russian television showed Yeltsin vigorously embracing and kissing Arafat at the start of their meeting. In recent weeks, Arafat has visited the United States and several European capitals to drum up support for Palestinian statehood. He has threatened to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state on May 4, when the interim period of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking expires under the terms of the Oslo accords. During his meeting with Arafat late last month, President Clinton reiterated U.S. policy that a Palestinian state can only emerge through negotiations with Israel. Earlier this week, Ivanov said the Palestinian Authority should hold off on the unilateral declaration and give more time to the negotiating process. Although an official co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process, Russia has long said it seeks a greater role in peacemaking efforts there. To further that role, Ivanov is planning a four-day visit to the region next week. His itinerary includes a stopover in Israel. Also next week, another Mideast leader — Syrian President Hafez Assad — is slated to visit Moscow. Assad’s visit comes as Russian officials reacted angrily to a decision last week by the United States to impose sanctions on three Russian firms for supplying anti-tank weapons to Syria, which Washington accuses of sponsoring terrorism. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright determined last Friday that the Russian government was involved in the deal, but did not slap sanctions on it, a move that preserved $90 million in U.S. aid to Moscow. Responding to the announced sanctions, the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying that Moscow reserved the right to take “adequate retaliatory acts.” The statement also called the sanctions another anti-Russian move that would only further sour U.S.-Russian relations, already strained by the ongoing NATO bombing of Yugoslavia. The Russian Foreign Ministry said its cooperation with Syria does not violate any international agreements to which Russia is a signatory, nor does it disturb the balance of power in the Middle East. A number of leading Moscow newspapers also criticized the U.S. sanctions. According to press reports, Russia is involved in a $138 million deal to supply Syria with its Cornet-E and Metis-M anti-tank missile systems, which Russia insists are defensive weapons. A leading Moscow newspaper that has a strong following among liberals wrote that the “discriminatory” move against the three Russian firms had been taken under pressure from the Jewish lobby in Washington. Nezavisimaya Gazeta, one of the best-informed Moscow papers on military issues, also reported that 99 Russian experts and advisers are currently working with the Syrian armed forces, while Russia is training 77 Syrian army officers and generals in Russian military colleges. According to the newspaper, plans are under way to supply Syria with Russian anti-aircraft missile systems. Another Russian daily wrote in a front-page article that by announcing the sanctions Washington is “driving Russia into a corner.” Izvestiya added that this is happening at a time when Moscow is desperately seeking ways to protect its interests in the Mediterranean while also staying out of the crisis in Kosovo. The NATO campaign, aimed at ending Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo, has created a wave of anti-American and anti-Western sentiment in Moscow. Some Jews and members of other minority groups have grown increasing worried by what they describe as “pro-Serbian hysteria,” a massive campaign in the mass media supportive of Russia’s fellow Slavs in Yugoslavia. But the situation changed somewhat this week, when Russian television stations began showing footage of the tens of thousands of Kosovo refugees forced from their homes by Serbian forces.

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