Barak, Yeltsin meet while peace process bogs down
August 2, 1999
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak traveled to Moscow Monday for a one-day meeting with Russian leaders, while back in the Middle East the region's fragile peace process teetered on the brink of crisis.
Palestinians accused Barak of trying to avoid implementation of the Wye River accord signed last October, and Barak accused the Palestinians of "reacting with rigidity" to his proposal to alter the Wye accord's timetable.
Barak wants to fold a final status peace pact in with the third and final stage of Israeli troop withdrawal from the West Bank. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat rejects anything short of complete implementation of the accord, which calls for Israel to hand over 13 percent of the West Bank.
"This confirms what I have said from the beginning, that this is an attempt to avoid the accurate and honest implementation of what has been agreed upon," Arafat said Sunday.
The often-stalled peace process was stymied Sunday when Israeli negotiator Gilead Sher again brought up Barak's idea during a meeting with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat.
Israeli Cabinet minister Haim Ramon told CNN Monday that the latest harsh words between the two Mideast rivals constitute a "mini-crisis," but not a full blown problem.
"It's just the beginning of the dialogue between the new Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, between Prime Minster Barak and Chairman Arafat," he said.
And Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy told Israel Radio that Barak was fully prepared to implement the Wye accords as written if the Palestinians reject his proposal.
"If they don't accept (changes), we will honor it," Levy said.
Barak told his Cabinet before leaving for Russia that he expected to begin preparing for troop redeployment in September, and conducting the withdrawal in October.
The Palestinians have given Israeli three weeks to comply with the accord.
Barak's trip to Moscow was his first since trouncing former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in May's general elections. Barak met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov there.
Yeltsin called for an increased role in Mideast negotiations for Russia, a co-sponsor of the process with the United States, and quicker movement toward a settlement.
"We are not saying that our relations (with Israel) have been bad or insufficient," the president said. "No, we have been close by throughout the Middle East peace settlement. But that settlement has been going to slowly."
Netanyahu, signed the accords for Israel at Wye River Plantation, Maryland, and implemented the first stage of its provisions, handing over 2 percent of West Bank territory. But he then froze the Israeli pullout over concerns about the Palestinians' commitment to providing security for Jewish settlers in the area.
Yeltsin also told Barak he strongly condemned a wave of anti-Semitic violence that has plagued Russia in recent months and promised legal action.
The two leaders also discussed Moscow's ties with other Middle Eastern states, particularly Iran and Iraq.
Correspondents Mike Hanna and Jerrold Kessel contributed to this report.
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