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World - Middle East

Moroccan meetings boost Barak's peace efforts

July 25, 1999
Web posted at: 7:00 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT)

RABAT, Morocco -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak left Morocco on Sunday after attending the funeral of King Hassan II, but not before holding unplanned, and in one case unprecedented, talks with Arab leaders.

In the first known communication between leaders of the two countries, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika spoke with the Israeli premier.

"If you need any help, we are ready to help you," Bouteflika said during their seven-minute conversation.

"I promise you, we will need it," Barak replied as the two clasped hands.

Bouteflika had been adamant before Sunday in his hostility towards Israel. Algeria, considered the guardian of Arab nationalist orthodoxy, is technically in a state of war with the Jewish state.

Israeli officials said Barak, who took office on July 6 pledging to move the Mideast peace process forward, also met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan.

Clinton, Barak and Arafat have 'animated' talks

Also on Sunday, U.S. President Bill Clinton met briefly with Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. A White House official described the impromptu meeting as "animated."

Arafat and Barak delayed a weekend peacemaking summit on the border of Israel and Gaza to attend the funeral for Hassan, considered one of the most ardent proponents of peace in the Middle East.

Many Israelis revere Hassan for guaranteeing the safety of Moroccan Jews in 1948, when Jews fled other Arab countries because of a wave of anger following the establishment of the Jewish state.

Hassan welcomed Israeli leaders for talks when other Arab leaders shunned them, and played an active role in peace negotiations between Israel and Egypt in 1979. But he also sent Moroccan troops to aid Syria and Egypt in wars against Israel in 1973.

Barak, eager to pursue peace talks with Syria, had hoped the gathering of world leaders would offer a chance to meet the Syrian president, but Hafez Assad decided not to attend. Vice President Mohammed Zuhair Masharqa represented Syria instead.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
Israel's Institutions of Government
PASSIA: Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs
Palestinian National Authority
The Middle East Network Information Center
Office of the Israeli Prime Minister
Knesset - The Israeli Parliament
The Egyptian Presidency
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