Abbas accepts invitation to visit Iran - Palestinians (REUTERS) By Wafa Amr RAMALLAH additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Tehran bureau 02/02/05 06:41 AM ET)
Reuters News Service
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RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,
who wants to talk peace with Israel, has accepted an invitation to
pay an official visit to Israel´s arch-enemy Iran, officials said on
Iran has refused to change policy backing Palestinian militants and
advocating Israel´s destruction, but in recent years has said it
would not oppose a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict if
the Palestinian people wanted this.
Israel has hailed Abbas´s bid to end a bloody 4-year uprising by
militants, now observing a tacit ceasefire at Abbas´s behest, but has
accused Iran of trying to scuttle progress by continuing aid to what
it calls "terrorist groups". "Abu Mazen has received an invitation to
visit Iran. He has accepted the invitation and will decide on the
date after he returns home," a senior Palestinian official told
Reuters, using Abbas´s popular nickname. Abbas is in Turkey, having
also visited Moscow earlier in the week.
A source close to Iran´s Foreign Ministry confirmed Abbas would
probably visit shortly and said his trip showed that Tehran
wanted "friendly ties with the Palestinian government as it has with
all Palestinian groups".
"This doesn´t mean that Iran will change its view about the peace
process. Iran has always supported the Palestinians politically,"
another Iranian source said. Iran´s ties with Palestinian leaders
have long been strained over their increasing readiness to compromise
with Israel, especially since 1990s interim peace deals that gave
Palestinians self-rule in Israeli-occupied territories.
The moderate Abbas was overwhelmingly elected on Jan. 9 as Yasser
Arafat´s successor on a platform of non-violent struggle for
statehood in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
He has since coaxed an informal ceasefire from militants, ushering in
relative calm in the region, and is to meet Israeli Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon in Egypt on Feb. 8, the first summit between the sides
in years. A senior Israeli official said his government saw no reason
for Iran to support Abbas but that the Palestinian president might be
trying to remove as many obstacles as possible to a revival of
"In line with his current policy of trying to reach understanding
with (militant) opposition groups, he appears to be seeking Iranian
agreement not to scuttle the current process he is engaged in," the
Israeli official said.
"The Iranians have an interest in showing that they can play a
constructive role and be an alternative to the United States in this
region. I do not think that this is our business. If Abbas wants to
sell his goods, then good luck."
The United States and Israel accuse Iran of arming and financing
militant anti-Israel groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas. Iran says it
only provides them with "moral support".
Arafat, the longtime Palestinian leader who died in November, visited
Tehran soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Then-Supreme Leader
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rewarded Arafat by handing over the
Israeli embassy to the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
But in 1998, Iran´s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called
Arafat a lackey of Israel over his signing of a 1993 interim peace
with Israel, provoking a war of words with the Palestinian officials.
Arafat paid another visit to Iran in 2000 but got a chilly reception
that mirrored Tehran´s deepseated opposition to his participation in
U.S.-sponsored Middle East peace talks that ultimately collapsed into
renewed bloodshed. (additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem
and Tehran bureau) (© Reuters 2005 02/02/05)
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