Sharon, after Gaza withdrawal, may find new friends at the UN
Israeli leader has unusually heavy schedule of talks
JERUSALEM -- Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, after the Gaza Strip withdrawal, has been flooded with so many requests to meet with other leaders at the celebrations marking the United Nations' 60th anniversary this week that he could not accommodate them all, aides say.
That would be a change for Israel, which is used to a much chillier reception at the United Nations, where more than 20 anti-Israel resolutions are passed annually.
Sharon broke with allies in Israel's nationalist and settler camps and carried off Israel's first evacuation of territory the Palestinians claim for a future state.
All 8,500 settlers were removed three weeks ago, and the last troops pulled out yesterday, ending Israel's 38-year occupation of the coastal strip along the Mediterranean that it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
As part of the plan, which may eventually lead to the Palestinian state, Israel also dismantled four small settlements in the northern part of the West Bank.
Although Sharon's political coup has touched off efforts to topple him in his governing Likud Party, it is expected to serve him well internationally when he and other world leaders convene at the UN.
Still, there will be limits to the diplomatic payback Israel will receive for having quit Gaza, some analysts say.
Muslim nations expect major strides from Israel on the peacemaking front, if not the establishment of a Palestinian state, before they will commit to formal diplomatic relations, or in some cases, a warming of existing ties.
''For the Iraqi state, it is very difficult," Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said recently of the prospect of relations with Israel.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, said Sharon's ''very full" schedule of meetings included talks with a number of powerful leaders around the world.
These would include President Bush, Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, Russian President Vladimir V. Putin and King Abdullah of Jordan, in addition to leaders from the European Union, Turkey, Australia and Canada.
''I think we're hopeful that there will be meetings with Muslim leaders," Regev added, without elaborating. ''There's an enhanced understanding in the international community of what this prime minister has done to try to create a more positive situation between us and the Palestinians."
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom expects to meet with Muslim foreign ministers at the UN session, Regev said, but he declined to say whether Shalom would talk with leaders who have not met publicly with Israeli officials.
In a landmark change, Pakistan publicly launched talks with Israel; the two nations' foreign ministers met in Turkey this month. Both countries linked the breakthrough to Israel's withdrawal from Gaza, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf praised Sharon's ''courage and boldness."
Musharraf also backtracked from his initial statement after the meeting Pakistan wouldn't consider ties with Israel before a Palestinian state is established.
Musharraf said he would consider ties if Israel takes concrete steps toward the formation of a Palestinian state.
But Musharraf, who initiated the talks, let his appreciation for Sharon go only so far. He threw cold water on speculation that he and Sharon might meet in New York, saying it was too early.
Other Muslim leaders, like Iraq's Talabani, similarly were willing to entertain the notion of ties with Israel but demanded more of Israel before considering them.
''There is no animosity in Iraq" toward Israel, he said in a speech at a Washington center funded by an Israeli businessman, Haim Saban. But a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement would be a prerequisite, he said.
Israel's diplomatic ties with Muslim countries are now limited to Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Mauritania.