More generally, reports of the talks between Russian leaders and Arafat this week highlighted the usual expressions of friendship between Russia and the Palestinians, while those describing the Russian-Israeli talks made surprisingly little mention of issues which have divided the two countries in the past. Arafat and Levy were both careful in public to extol the importance of Russia’s contribution to the Middle East peace process and to urge Moscow to play a higher-profile role there in the future. The two men appeared also to back a new Russian proposal calling for the convening of a Middle East peace conference in Moscow sometime early next year (Russian and Western agencies, November 30; Itar-Tass, December 2). On a more personal note, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who held a twenty minute telephone conversation with Arafat on November 30, reportedly also accepted an invitation from the Palestinian leader to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas in the Holy Lands. A Kremlin spokesman confirmed on December 2 that the ailing Yeltsin would fly to Jerusalem on January 5 if “he feels well.” A host of leaders from Orthodox nations have been invited to share in the celebration (Itar-Tass, December 2).
According to an Israeli news source, Levy had intended during his talks in Moscow to underscore the importance which Israel attaches to the resumption of UN arms inspections in Iraq so as to ensure that President Saddam Hussein is not allowed to rearm without international supervision (Ha’aretz, December 21). That is a position unlikely to be very popular in Moscow. Reports of the talks also suggested that Levy had raised the issues of anti-Semitism in Russia and Russian-Iranian defense cooperation. But on the latter issue in particular there was not the usual focus on Israeli’s intense objections to what it says are continuing leaks of Russian nuclear and missile technology to Iran. Indeed, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak reemphasized precisely those concerns–apparently with little effect–during talks with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Oslo on November 2. At the behest of the Clinton administration the Israeli government had reportedly agreed this past summer to let the issue of illicit Russian-Iranian defense transfers rest for a while. Indications that the leaks were continuing were said to have been the reason for Barak’s decision to press the issue anew (Reuters, November 2; Ha’aretz, November 3).
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