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Russia: Primakov Discusses Peace Process, Arms And Iran

Ramallah, 27 October 1997 (RFE/RL) - Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat met today with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov in the West Bank town of Ramallah to discuss the stalled peace process with Israel. Primakov met yesterday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in talks dominated by Israeli concerns over Russian technology sales to Iran.

The issue was discussed again this morning during a meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai and Primakov. Mordechai urged Russia to stop helping Iran develop ballistic missiles.

Primakov denied that his country was helping Iran develop technology for long-range ballistic missiles.

Mordechai said after his talks with Primakov that "Russia, unfortunately, still is supporting the Iranian project to produce non-conventional weapons and long-range missiles."

Russian diplomats say Primakov is expected in Damascus later today for a second visit to Syria in two days.

Primakov, who has already visited Lebanon, is scheduled to visit Egypt and Jordan on the next leg of his Middle East tour.

Correspondents in Israel say peace talks scheduled in Washington this week between Israeli and Palestinian leaders are likely to be delayed following a dispute between Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister David Levy.

Levy reportedly has refused to leave for Washington to lead the Israeli side in the talks until Netanyahu provides him with a negotiating mandate. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright also was expected to attend the talks.

Natanyahu's media adviser, David Bar-Illan, denied that Netanyahu was trying to avoid the Washington negotiations. Bar-Illan said Levy felt that his lack of a mandate meant he was being bypassed in dealings with Palestinians.

Bar-Illan said negotiations will most likely be delayed until early next month. There has been no independent confirmation from Washington on the report. The Washington meeting was expected to address the issue of Jewish settlements in occupied land, and the return of lands in the West Bank to Palestinian rule.

Correspondents also say Netanyahu will face difficult battles with parliament, the Knesset, after the opening today of a new legislative session. Issues on the agenda include debate over Israel's commitment to pulling troops out of the West Bank. Nationalist members of Netanhayu's coalition have threatened to join a movement for Netanyahu's ouster over the issue.

Meanwhile, Israel today began freeing a group of 26 Palestinian prisoners as part of a deal with Jordan for the release of two Israeli agents arrested last month on suspicion of attempting to kill a Palestinian leader in Amman.

Israeli prison officials said 11 Palestinians were transferred today from civilian prisons in Israel to a military base outside the West Bank city of Ramallah. They are expected to be handed over to Palestinian police later today. Two other Palestinians were transferred to the Gaza Strip for release. Israeli army officials said another 13 are to be released from Israeli military prisons.