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Russia: Yeltsin Blames Israel For Mideast Deadlock

Moscow, 23 September 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian President Boris Yeltsin today blamed Israel for the deadlock in the Mideast peace process. Yeltsin, meeting with visiting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, said Israel's "unconstructive position" was making a solution hard to find.

Yeltsin said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat today cannot be accused of terrorist acts and that such an accusation "is not serious." Yeltsin also urged the United States to play a more active role in bringing the peace process back on track. Russia, along with the United States, is a co-sponsor of the Mideast peace process.

Yeltsin also said that Mubarak had criticized Russia for not being active enough in the region and promised to send Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov to Egypt in the near future.

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said after the talks that Yeltsin himself might visit Egypt at Mubarak's invitation. Yastrzhembsky also said Russia and Egypt had agreed to draft a new friendship treaty.

Yeltsin and Mubarak also signed a joint declaration and attended the signing of agreements on technical cooperation and fighting crime.

Meanwhile, a Kremlin spokesman said today that President Yeltsin is satisfied with a revised version of a religious bill which he vetoed earlier this year.

Sergei Yastrezhembsky said Yeltsin will most likely sign the bill into law after the Federation Council, Russia's upper house, is expected to approve it in the next few days.

The Duma approved last week the revised version of the controversial bill. Its first draft was vetoed by Yeltsin in July after it was approved by both houses. The bill has been criticized by the United States' Congress, the Vatican and Protestant leaders who fear it discriminates against minority religions.

Yesterday, Yeltsin discussed crime-prevention measures with the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB) Nikolai Kovalyev.

Spokesman Yastrzhembsky said the Russian president had accepted a series of measures proposed by Kovalyev to prevent "terrorist acts and murders" directed at Russian privatization officials.

The measures come after the head of the privatization program in St. Petersburg was murdered on his way to work in August. Russian reports say the slaying was a contract murder ordered by criminal groups disgruntled with the city's privatization program.

Yastrzhembsky also said Yeltsin met today with Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov who proposed to reduced Interior Ministry forces by an additional 37,000 men. ITAR-TASS says such a move would leave interior ministry forces at half their 1991 level.