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Barak meets Blair in London in bid to discourage Palestinian statehood declaration
Barak planned to seek support from Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in discouraging Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from unilaterally declaring an independent state. Then Barak heads for France for a meeting with President Jacques Chirac.
The meetings come as Israelis and Palestinians continue peace talks aimed at reaching a final settlement by a September 13 deadline. The two sides remain far apart on key issues, including borders and the status of Jerusalem.
The parties have yet to agree on a U.S. plan for a three-way summit between President Bill Clinton, Barak and Arafat.
An Israeli diplomat, commenting on Barak's European trip, said: "We don't want to see significant international players giving Arafat any impression he would do better by acting unilaterally than by working with Israel.
"If he is allowed to understand he would do better unilaterally, it would hamper the effort to achieve peace," said the diplomat, who declined to be identified.
Arafat has promised to declare an independent Palestinian state this year, whether or not a settlement is reached.
He met Chirac last Saturday to press France, the current European Union head, to recognize the future state.
On Monday, the Palestine Liberation Organization's 129-member mini-parliament backed Arafat's pledge to declare an independent state with or without a peace treaty.
British officials say Britain backs an EU statement last year which called for the early establishment of a Palestinian state through negotiations, but with no Israeli veto.
Blair is likely to give a sympathetic hearing to Barak, a regular visitor to Blair's Downing Street office.
The two leaders have drawn close parallels between their center-left governments -- Blair's New Labor Party and Barak's Labor-led coalition.
Diplomats said Barak and Blair could also discuss the prison sentences passed on Saturday on 10 Iranian Jews convicted of spying for Israel, and the prospects for peace between Israel and Syria after the death of President Hafez Assad, who ruled Syria for nearly three decades.
British officials said Blair's Middle East envoy Lord Levy, who has been at the center of a row over his tax bill, would not attend Wednesday's talks.
Reuters contributed to this report.
Arafat, Clinton confer while Israeli-Palestinian talks stumble
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