Bulgaria's foreign minister, Solomon Passy, was unable to make up his mind last night (by print time) whether to come to Israel today as planned. The reason, which caught Israel by surprise, was his decision to meet Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat at the Muqata in Ramallah. Passy was told that if he did so, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would cancel their scheduled meeting.
Early yesterday morning, Passy's office in Sofia said in view of these developments, the entire visit to Israel might be scrapped. Later, the office said it was almost certain the visit would take place, but noted that the minister would be convening his advisors late at night for a final consultation. The office declined to comment on whether Passy might cancel his meeting with Arafat.
Israel was surprised by Passy's plans, as relations with Bulgaria are considered warm. The Jewish aspect - Bulgaria recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of its rescue of 50,000 Jews in World War II - plays an important role in the relationship between the two countries. Passy, himself a proud Jew, has a very pro-American track record - especially over the Iraq war.
During Passy's visit to Washington earlier this month, President George Bush said relations between the two countries had never been better. Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Sofia on May 15th and thanked the Bulgarians for their support during the recent war.
In the last few days, information coming from the U.S. seemed to indicate that Passy had given up on the idea of a meeting with Arafat. It seemed the American pressure that was applied, both during his visit to Washington and during Powell's trip to Sofia, had succeeded.
But it transpired that the European Union, which applied pressure from the opposite direction, still has some clout with the new candidate that is scheduled to join the union in 2007.
This might prove to be embarrassing for the Foreign Ministry, which is in the throes of a two-month-old campaign to strengthen Israel's ties with eastern European countries before they join the EU, so as to boost Israel's position in the organization once the new members are in.
The visit that Passy may or may not pay to the Muqata will also determine the latest score in the behind-the-scenes power struggle between the EU and the U.S.-Israel axis.
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