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 09:03 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
Official Iranian policy advocates Israel´s destruction but the
reformist government has also said it would not oppose a two-state
solution to the Middle East conflict if the Palestinian people
Israel has hailed Abbas´s bid to end a bloody 4-year uprising by
militants, now observing a tacit cease-fire 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 cease-fire 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 peacemaking.
"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."
One Tehran political analyst said the true sign of a dramatic change
in Iranian policy would be if Abbas got an audience with Supreme
Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wants no compromise with Israel
which he says should be destroyed.
"Abu Mazen would certainly ask for Iran´s help in reining in
extremist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad," added the analyst
who declined to be named.
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 Organization.
But in 1998, 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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