Israel to take gradual approach to restoring ties

By Yehonathan Tommer

JERUSALEM - Israel plans to rebuild normal relations with New Zealand "gradually and methodically" after an end to the freeze on government contacts between the two countries.

"We are happy the crisis is behind us and look ahead to the future," a senior Israeli foreign ministry official said.

Israel formally apologised to New Zealand yesterday for the passports scandal which disrupted diplomatic relations, but has stopped short of admitting a pair of convicted Israelis were Mossad agents.

"We had excellent warm and friendly relations before and we wish to restore them to that same intensity. Yet we don't want to rush things by inundating New Zealand with ideas and programmes," said Amos Nadav, the ministry's deputy director for Asia and the Pacific said.

Progress is expected to be made after Israel's Ambassador in Canberra, Naphtali Tamir, presents his credentials in Wellington in a matter of weeks.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's envoy in Turkey, Jan Henderson, is expected to make an early visit to Jerusalem to renew the diplomatic dialogue on ways of rekindling normal ties.

Mr Nadav declined to comment about media reports that several additional Kiwi passports allegedly acquired by the Mossad had been cancelled.

"I don't wish to relate to any aspect of the affair," he said. "We have no part in it. We are diplomats. We only wish to look to the future."

Mr Nadav also declined to comment on policy lessons that should be drawn in Jerusalem from the passport affair. "Ties will be carefully rebuilt," he reiterated.

The diplomatic sanctions did not create "scars or grievances", at official levels as these were maintained through New Zealand's embassy in Turkey during the weeks of negotiations, he said. But the freeze on visits by Israeli officials has left New Zealand's small Jewish community vulnerable and isolated.

Private business with Israel was sharply hit by the crisis atmosphere as local New Zealand companies placed a moratorium on potential deals and agreements pending a resolution of the crisis.

Both factors played a crucial role eventually in getting the Israelis to agree to a suitable formula for the apology.

An early visit to New Zealand is now in the offing, either by Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom or the ministry's director-general, Ron Prosser .


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