Bulgarian FM Nixes Meeting With Arafat

Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy yesterday canceled a scheduled meeting with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat under Israeli pressure.

In addition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin threatened to cancel a scheduled meeting with Passy if he met Arafat. Passy's aides then said Passy had decided to cancel the Arafat meeting and Passy and Rivlin met as yesterday afternoon.

Sharon had already refused to meet Passy and when Rivlin decided to follow him, Passy was left with a sharply curtailed schedule of meetings in Israel unless he canceled the Arafat visit.

Late on Monday it had been unclear if the Bulgarian foreign minister would come to Israel at all yesterday because of the controversy over the Arafat meeting.

On Monday, Passy's office in Sofia had said the entire visit to Israel might be scrapped. Later, the office said it was almost certain the visit would take place, but the minister would convene 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 to see Arafat, as relations with Bulgaria are considered warm. The Jewish aspect - Bulgaria recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of its rescue of 50,000 Jews during 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.

Apparently the American pressure that had been applied, both during Passy's 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 had some clout with the new candidate that is scheduled to join the union in 2007.