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Archive for Thursday, July 8, 2004

Israel snubs envoys on peace plans

July 8, 2004

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— Israel snubbed a delegation of Mideast mediators that had come to discuss its planned withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, officials said Wednesday, further undermining efforts to promote an internationally backed peace plan for the region.

The representatives of the so-called Quartet -- comprising the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia -- are in the region to promote the Gaza withdrawal.

The Quartet wants the withdrawal to be part of the "road map," its broader peace plan that envisions an independent Palestinian state by 2005.

Israeli officials, however, decided not to meet with the diplomats during a stop in Jerusalem on Tuesday -- the latest sign that the Jewish state is attempting to exclude Europeans from Mideast peacemaking ahead of its planned Gaza withdrawal.

"We do not work with the Europeans on security issues. We don't want to work with the Europeans on security issues," said Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman, Asaf Shariv.

"We work with the Americans on these issues. There are a lot of other issues, like economic, that we would be happy to work on with the Europeans," Shariv said.

Shariv denied Israel had refused to meet the Quartet. He said Israel first wanted to talk to a White House delegation arriving later this week before discussing the withdrawal plan with others.

Israel has often accused Europe of being biased toward the Palestinians, and preferred to deal directly with the United States.

The government has progressively distanced itself from the road map, which calls for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, since it signed on to the plan a year ago.

Nuclear concerns

Meanwhile in Tel Aviv, the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency got an airborne glimpse Wednesday of the reactor linked to Israel's alleged weapons program, but made no progress in getting the Jewish state to talk about its nuclear capabilities.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, saw Israel's Dimona reactor during a flight over the country during which he was briefed on Israel's security needs.

In the face of overwhelming evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons, ElBaradei is keen for at least tacit acknowledgment as part of his efforts to restart talks on a Middle East free of arms of mass destruction that petered out in the mid 1990s.

But Israel has stuck to its policy of neither confirming nor denying it has nuclear weapons -- which it sees as the best way to keep Islamic foes from attacking while denying them the rationale for seeking nuclear weapons.

On Wednesday, ElBaradei said Israel was alarmed by Iran's nuclear ambitions, indicating such fears worked against any change in Israeli policy.

"They're expressing concern about Iran," said ElBaradei after talks with senior officials at Israel's secretive nuclear energy agency.

IAEA spokesman Mark Gwozdecky said ElBaradei would be happy to act as an informal bridge between Israel and the Islamic world, which resents what it considers unfair international tolerance of Israel's secret nuclear capacities.

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