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No apparent resolution to Israel-China arms deal

JERUSALEM, April 18 (JTA) — Chinese President Jiang Zemin has wrapped up a historic weeklong trip to Israel — apparently with no resolution of a controversy surrounding Israel’s planned sale of military technology to Beijing.

China billed Jiang’s visit as a chance for him to discuss the Middle East peace process, but it was overshadowed by U.S.-Israeli tensions over Israel’s plan to sell a $250 million airborne radar system to Beijing.

Accompanying Jiang on the final day of his visit, Israeli President Ezer Weizman said Tuesday the Jewish state would “find a solution” to those tensions, leaving it unclear whether the sale of Israel’s PHALCON early warning radar system would go through.

U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen recently pressed Prime Minister Ehud Barak to cancel plans to sell the system. Cohen said publicly that it was “counterproductive” to the region, especially with escalating tensions between China and Taiwan.

President Clinton brought up the planned sale when he met with Barak last week in Washington.

One U.S. legislator, Rep. Sonny Callahan (R-Ala.), the powerful chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee, has said he would block $250 million in foreign aid to Israel if it goes ahead with the sale to China.

Israeli officials are now saying they are hoping to find a compromise that would appease its closest ally while not reneging on a lucrative contract with China.

One possibility would have Israel supply China with only one plane that has already been outfitted with the PHALCON system, whose technology is similar to the U.S. airborne command centers known as AWACS. But Israel may not follow through in selling three to seven more similarly equipped aircraft to Beijing.

Aside from the arms sale controversy, Jiang’s April 12-18 visit reflected the deepening relations between Israel and China since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1992.

During his trip, the first by a Chinese president to the Jewish state, Jiang held a series of talks with Israeli leaders, including Barak.

He visited the Western Wall and the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, as well as Christian and Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem.

Accompanied by a large delegation of Chinese officials, he also toured agricultural projects in southern Israel.

Jiang concluded his trip Tuesday with tours of two Israeli high-tech companies that do a total of about $100 million in annual business with China. Earlier in his stay, Jiang made one-day trips to Egypt and the Palestinian self-rule areas, where he voiced his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

China was among the first nations to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1964, and to recognize Palestinian self-declared independence in 1988.

Cooperation between Israel and China is not limited to the military sphere.

The two countries are also interested in cultivating political, economic, agricultural and scientific ties. In 1997, Israel and China formed joint committees dealing with agriculture, telecommunications, health and electronics.

China’s second most powerful figure, Li Peng, visited Israel last November.

Weizman said he was encouraged that Jiang used Israel as a home base for his trips to Egypt and the self-rule areas.

“It means he takes us seriously,” said Weizman. “He appreciates what we do.”

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