Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said Wednesday in Jerusalem that China has an "objective interest" in the Middle East and it has great weight to both the Palestinians and Israelis.
In an interview with Xinhua ahead of his visit to Beijing on Sunday, Peres said, "China's interest in the Middle East is to win peace rather than win one side over the other."
The foreign minister said he will listen very carefully to Chinese, seek their advices and tell them very openly how the Israeli government sees the situation.
"China is one of the most important countries of our time and China's advice is highly appreciated," Peres said in his office. " China's role and voices are very important," he stressed.
Peres said, "China is a peace-seeking country and would like to see peace all over the globe and end terror all over the places."
"I'm going to express our regret and apologies for the Phalcon issue," he went on to say, referring to a trade dispute between the two countries.
Israel unilaterally canceled its agreement with China for selling its Phalcon early warning system under the pressure from the United States in August 2000.
The issue had impacts on bilateral relations, but the two sides recently reached an agreement to solve the problem.
"We have had a difficult relationship in the issue of Phalcon plane. And I hope a new chapter will be opened again," said Peres.
"We caused the problems. We do not blame the Chinese. We blame ourselves," the foreign minister said.
On his third trip to China, Peres said that he is going to see with his own eyes how China is making progress.
He said it is fascinating to see China growing and being developed. "I'd like to take a quick look to see the new face of China," he told Xinhua.
"China has enjoyed important steps. It was accepted as a member of the WTO. It was elected as the nation to host the Olymics. China was given a new recognition and it is meaningful to all of us," Peres added.
Israel Has No Role in Anti-Iraq Operations
Peres said that Israel is not going to play a role in the possible US military operations against Iraq. "we are very careful not to get ourselves mixed in the story, and I do not think that Israel should be asked to join any coalition."
"We don't want anybody to say the war against Iraq is because of us," the foreign minister said.
He added that if Israel should be attacked, it would take every measure to defend itself, but Israel would refrain from taking offensive actions.
US Vice President Dick Cheney just concluded his Middle East tour trying to woo Arab support for the possible US military operations against Iraq.
The outspoken strike reminds Israelis of the Gulf War in 1990, when Iraq launched 39 Scud missiles against Israel during the US-led military operations to end the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait.
Amid voices against the repetition of such operations this time, however, Cheney was reported to have told his hosts that there would be no military strike against Iraq in the near future.
Peres Intends to Push for Peace With Palestinians
The Foreign Minister said that there is an urgent need for the current government to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians and that the draft plan jointly drawn up by him and Palestinian Parliament Speaker Abu Ala can still be used to restart political talks.
Peres said that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has not approved nor rejected the plan, which calls for the Palestinians to "establish a single authority over all armed groups" and mutual recognition between Israel and an independent Palestinian state within eight weeks.
Then according to the plan, Peres said, it should take a year's time to negotiate the essential Israeli-Palestinian issues such as border, water, refugees, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements and security. After that, it will take another year to implement the agreement.
"I'm telling him (Sharon) you won't find a better solution. I'm also telling him that time is running out. We have to make a decision," said Peres.
The time factor becomes increasingly important with the approach of the next general elections which will begin in October 2003, explained Peres, adding that the campaign for the elections will begin in early 2003 and the primaries in the parties will begin by the end of this year.
"I think we have to make up our minds before that," he noted.
The moderate leader said the remaining differences with the Palestinians over the plan was that the Palestinians want to state clearly that the future border between the two states will be based on the actual control line before the 1967 Middle East War, while he insists on basing the negotiations on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, which call on Israel to withdraw from the territories captured in the war.
He said that it is better to keep "a little bit ambiguity" before negotiations and that will also help him "collect majority" in Israel to support the agreement.
Peres, who sees the 18 months of bloody conflicts with the Palestinians as "a mistake," said that he still believes Palestinian National Authority Yasser Arafat is an indispensable peace partner.
Asked whether Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon can reach a peace agreement with Arafat, Peres said: "In politics, everything is possible. We should never cling to the past and had better look to the future."
Peres Optimistic About Ongoing Ceasefire Efforts
Shimon Peres was upbeat about the renewed ceasefire efforts to end the 18 months of bloodshed between Israel and the Palestinians.
"There is a chance, not yet closed, because both parties are tired. Everybody needs a ceasefire, " said Peres in the interview.
"We have agreed that at this time we shall also deal with political aspects, not only the security aspects. So we believe the chances were actually increased."
Peres, who has been one of the most resonant voices in the Israeli political arena to call for a political solution to the conflict, was not so enthusiastic about the deployment of international observers in the territories to enforce a truce on the ground.
"If you have an agreement, they can observe. If there is no agreement, what can they observe? Observers can observe our army, but not the armed groups," he said.
Peres compared observers to barometers. "If you do not change the atmosphere what can the barometer help you? First we have to change the situation before we can talk about sending observers."
Peres said Israel will not launch reprisal attacks to the recent Palestinian attacks inside Israel. He said Israel expects Palestinian National Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to make 100 percent efforts to stop violence, but not 100 percent results.
He said Israel has formed two groups: one is composed of experts and professional people who will deal with security issues in talks with the Palestinians; another is made up of political leaders and will be headed by himelf. The latter is charged with dealing with political issues.
The foreign minister denied that the recent moves taken by Israel to facilitate a ceasefire were related to any US plan against Iraq.
(People's Daily March 22, 2002)