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Israeli Diplomat Asks African Leaders to Reject Fiery Rhetoric

By Peter Heinlein
Addis Ababa
02 September 2009

During a five-nation African tour, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is urging Africa to reject "one-sided decisions" against his country. Earlier this week, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi blamed Israel for all Africa's conflicts, and called on its leaders to expel Israeli embassies. The Israeli minister was speaking in Addis Ababa.

Speaking to Ethiopian government and business leaders, Lieberman did not directly address the comments made by Mr. Gadhafi this week at an African Union summit.

But in a speech devoted mostly to trade issues, Lieberman called for African decision-makers to keep a cool head when faced with fiery rhetoric. He said Israel has a lot to offer Africa as the continent tries to extricate itself from poverty.

"Within the African Union itself, it is very important that the decisions and activities of the African states reflect a positive and constructive approach. One that rejects one-sided decisions against Israel. Israel enjoys economic growth and a strong economy, with Israeli products, services and know-how to be seen almost all around the world," he said.

Lieberman declined to answer reporters' questions about Mr. Gadhafi's A.U. speech. But an Israeli newspaper quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as calling the Libyan leader "a 'clown' whose declarations no one in the world takes seriously."

Nevertheless, Colonel Gadhafi is known to have a small but loyal following within the 53-member African Union. Several African countries, including Mali, Niger and Chad have no diplomatic ties with the Jewish state.

Colonel Gadhafi currently holds the rotating A.U. chairmanship.

In his speech to a special A.U. summit he called to coincide with the 40th anniversary of his rise to power, he is reported to have said Israel uses the "protection of minorities as an excuse to launch conflicts."

Lieberman's visit is described as the first by an Israeli foreign minister to sub-Saharan Africa in more than 20 years. He is travelling with a high-powered trade delegation, including several of Israel's largest defense and security contractors.

After Ethiopia, he will visit Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria and Uganda.

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