Sharon pitches peace plan in Moscow

By Steve Rodan
Monday, April 12, 1999

JERUSALEM -- Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon began talks in Moscow on Sunday in an Israeli initiative to end NATO's offensive against Yugoslavia, sources said.

The sources said that over the next three days Sharon plans to discuss a proposal for NATO to end the fighting and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to agree to full autonomy for Kosovo Albanians and a return of those expelled from the province.

Sharon, the sources said, has been in contact with both Belgrade and Washington regarding the issue. They said both Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Milosevic are interested in pursuing Sharon's efforts.

The foreign minister is also pursuing efforts to win the release of three U.S. soldiers captured by Yugoslavia on March 31. On Saturday, Cypriot parliamentary speaker Spyros Kyprianou left Belgrade after he failed to secure the release of the prisoners.

"Arik Sharon has the trust of Milosevic," a source close to the foreign minister said. "He will be the one to build some arrangement in Kosovo."

Israeli officials did not deny that Sharon was seeking to find a way to stop the NATO offensive. But some of them doubted that an Israeli initiative could work.

"It sounds to me very grandiose," a senior government source said. "I don't think we have that kind of influence."

Senior officials said Sharon was invited to Moscow by Ivanov and the focus of the talks will be efforts to halt the transfer of Russian technology to Iran's missile and nonconventional weapons program. They said the program combines the threat of more U.S. sanctions on Russian companies along with the offer of international aid and investments.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denied reports that Sharon planned to sign an agreement on space cooperation with Russia during his current trip to Moscow.

Earlier, Sharon said the purpose of his visit is to stop the flow of Russian technology to Iran, in part, by offering incentives to the government in Moscow. "I am traveling to Russia," Sharon told Israel Radio on Sunday, "and I want to stress this, in coordination and with the complete agreement of the American government to promote the vital interests of Israel, which is also the American interest -- the reduction of the Iranian danger as much as possible."

Former Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said the Israeli flirtation with Moscow is hurting ties with the United States. "This is something that has never been heard before," Peres said in a radio interview, "to weaken and even endanger our ties with the United States, both psychologically and politically. We are losing the most important political asset. Our close ties with the United States also helped us with Moscow.

Monday, April 12, 1999

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