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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Tells Arafat Not to Declare State

Russia on Tuesday advised Yasser Arafat not to unilaterally declare an independent state next month, and the Palestinian leader said he had not yet made a final decision.

President Boris Yeltsin greeted Arafat with a bear hug at the start of their Kremlin meeting, and said Moscow would continue to support the Palestinians.

"We have been carrying on a continuous policy of supporting you, and will continue to support you,'' Yeltsin said to Arafat.

However, Russia told Arafat not to declare an independent Palestinian state on May 4, when a five-year interim peace agreement with Israel expires.

Russia has been developing better ties with Israel in recent years, and has sought not to offend either the Israeli or the Palestinian side in the complex Middle East peace negotiations.

Arafat reiterated the Palestinians' right to go their own way and declare statehood on May 4, or continue negotiations with Israel.

"We haven't made a final decision yet on the May 4 problem, and we are continuing consultations,'' Arafat said.

Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov said the Palestinians' right to create a state was "indisputable,'' but urged Arafat to avoid rushing the process.

"We realize the importance of the time factor and tactics for the entire process of the Middle East settlement,'' he was quoted by Interfax as saying.

Arafat was in Russia as part of his tour to consult with international leaders in advance of the expiration of the interim peace deal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opposes Palestinian statehood and has threatened to counter such a unilateral move by annexing swaths of land still under Israeli control, including parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which the Palestinians want for a future state.

Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that the Palestinians' right of statehood is "beyond argument,'' but suggested that Israel and Palestinians extend a transition period to reach a compromise.

"We noted with deep concern that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has been standing still for a long time. The situation is becoming critical because of the approach of May 4," Ivanov said at a joint news conference with Arafat.

"The time left before May 4 must be used to find a mutually acceptable way of extending agreements on the transition period,'' he said. "During that time, Palestinians and Israel will be able to continue their negotiations on the final status of the Palestinian state.'' Ivanov said the signatories to the accord and U.S. and Russian officials, should attend the talks.

Arafat welcomed the Russian proposal and said his visit to Russia was a major step on the path to making a decision on declaring an independent Palestinian state.

Russia is officially a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process, which was launched in 1991. But the United States has played a far greater role.

Arafat was expected to pay a brief visit to Ukraine later Tuesday to hold talks with President Leonid Kuchma.