Boris Yeltsin used a Kremlin meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on February 18 to suggest that he is returning to a more normal working schedule and to restate Moscow’s intention to raise its profile in the Middle East peace process. The meeting was Yeltsin’s first with a foreign leader in the Kremlin since his heart surgery in November. But, symbolism aside, little new ground appeared to be broken in the talks. Russia’s presidential press service told reporters that Yeltsin had informed Arafat that the conclusion of a "fair, peaceful settlement in the Middle East" remains one of Moscow’s top foreign policy priorities. Arafat, in turn, described the meeting as "warm and friendly," and suggested that the talks between the two men had gone beyond the planned agenda. He called for Russia to play a more energetic role in the Middle East. A Kremlin spokesman told reporters after the meeting that Yeltsin had accepted an invitation from Arafat to attend celebrations in Bethlehem that will mark the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity. Yeltsin also reportedly proposed making Moscow and Bethlehem sister cities.
The Palestinian leader, who was in Moscow for a second day of talks yesterday, also met with Russian foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov. Afterwards, a Russian ministry official said that Arafat’s visit should be seen as a "further deepening of Russian-Palestinian political cooperation aimed at advancing the peace process in the Middle East." In his own comments to the press, Primakov urged that momentum be maintained in the Middle East peace process, and, in a thinly-veiled swipe at Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, called for all those who come to power in the region to observe agreements and pledges made by their predecessors. (AP, UPI, Itar-Tass, February 18; Itar-Tass, Interfax, February 19) Netanyahu is expected to visit the Russian capital in March. Moscow played virtually no role in the negotiation of last month’s pivotal Hebron accord — a development that served to reinforce Washington’s status as the region’s primary arbiter of disputes — and the Kremlin appears set to renew efforts to increase its influence in the region.
Lebed Will Not Run in Tula.