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Citigroup vice-chairman Stanley Fischer met yesterday in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Finance Minister Silvan Shalom and Bank of Israel Governor David Klein. During the 20-minute meeting, held at the Prime Minister's Bureau, the sides exchanged views on the Israeli economy.

Fischer said that despite the intifada and the global economic situation, the Israeli economy remained stable. He said that an end to the conflict with the Palestinians would improve Israel's economic situation.

In an interview published yesterday in the Hebrew edition of Ha'aretz, Fischer said that although Citigroup - the world's largest financial services group - was always looking for investment opportunities, now was not the time to buy a bank in the region.

"It is not impossible to identify business opportunities in Israel right now, but it is linked to the Middle East situation and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Analyzed objectively, there is less chance we will buy an Israeli bank under the current conditions," Fischer said.

Citibank Israel had been slated to open its first retail banking branch in the country last year, but the plan was repeatedly postponed despite the branch being ready to open. It was decided at the last minute to shelve the plan until an indeterminate date.

Fischer was asked if the plan to develop retail activity in Israel was in deep freeze, but Citibank Israel CEO Gus Felix hurried to respond, saying that the suspension stemmed from the current atmosphere, which he called inappropriate for launching a branch.

Fischer added that the possibility for war in the Middle East had increased recently, and Citigroup, with operations all over the region, felt now was the time for caution, not just in Israel, but in the entire Middle East. "We will wait and see what happens here," he said.