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A Link Between Middle East Conflict and Terrorism? - 2001-09-25


Diplomatic activities have increased throughout the Middle East, where leaders and senior diplomats have been shuttling between capitals seeking support for the U.S. coalition against terrorism. Diplomats are also trying to persuade Israel and the Palestinians to hold truce talks.

It's been on-again off-again for a long-awaited meeting between Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. There has been intense diplomatic pressure, especially on Israel, to go ahead with talks aimed at shoring up a fragile cease-fire with the Palestinians.

The talks were originally scheduled for Sunday, but were canceled at the last minute by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon because of continuing violence. Mr. Sharon has been demanding a 48-hour period of calm before talks can take place.

The latest word is the talks are on again and could be held early Wednesday.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has telephoned Mr. Sharon and Mr. Arafat repeatedly, urging them to go ahead with the meeting. De-escalating the crisis is viewed as especially vital now to the United States, which does not want the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to interfere with its efforts to forge a coalition against terrorism that includes Arab and Muslim nations.

Pressure has also come from other countries. Foreign ministers from France, Norway and Austria have been touring the region, all calling for the truce talks to take place.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is in Israel Tuesday as part of his tour of the Middle East. The foreign secretary held talks in Amman, Jordan Monday with Mr. Arafat as well as with Jordanian King Abdullah. He then continued on to a ground-breaking visit to Iran for talks with that country's leaders. It is the first visit to Iran by a British foreign secretary since the 1979 Islamic revolution. He met Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi as well as President Mohammed Khatami to discuss the recent terrorist attacks on the United States and the possibility of closer Iranian cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Mr. Straw's visit to Iran and, in particular his comments published in an Iranian newspaper, have outraged Israeli political leaders. In the newspaper commentary, Mr. Straw said that one of the factors that helps breed terrorism is the anger many people in the region feel about the events over the years in the Palestinian territories.

Israeli cabinet minister Ephraim Sneh, a member of the Labor Party, described Mr. Straw's comments as an "obscenity" and strongly objected to his visit to Tehran. Israel considers Iran a major threat and accuses it of supporting radical Islamic groups such as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas, all of which have carried out attacks against Israel. Late Monday, Prime Minister Sharon and President Moshe Katsav canceled their scheduled talks with Mr. Straw, but the meetings have now been put back on the agenda, after a phone call from British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

At the same time, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been on a diplomatic mission to France and Germany, stressing that without a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S. campaign against terrorism would not be successful.