Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make a four-day visit to Japan beginning Aug. 24 in an attempt to further economic relations, diplomatic sources said July 9.

It will be Netanyahu’s first visit to Japan since taking office in June 1996. He will meet with Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and business leaders. He will also visit South Korea on his way to or from Tokyo, the sources said.

The only other Israeli prime minister to visit Japan was Yitzhak Rabin in December 1994. Tomiichi Murayama was the first Japanese prime minister to make an official visit to Israel, in September 1995. Rabin was assassinated in November the same year.

Netanyahu replaced Shimon Peres, Rabin’s immediate successor, as prime minister after his rightwing Likud Party defeated Peres’ Labor Party in the 1996 elections. The talks between Hashimoto and Netanyahu will almost certainly have the stalled Middle East peace process at the top of the agenda.

Hashimoto is expected to urge Netanyahu to work harder toward a resumption of full-scale peace talks with the Palestinians, as well as with Syria, from which Israel seized the Golan Heights in the 1967 Middle East war. The Labor governments under Rabin and Peres vigorously pushed ahead with the peace process, striking breakthrough agreements that granted Palestinian autonomy in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and signing a peace accord with Jordan.

When Israel signed an agreement with Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority in mid-January on the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Hebron and other parts of the West Bank, the stalled peace process was expected to resume with the reopening of negotiations on a final agreement. The negotiations, which have been suspended since spring last year, are to address difficult issues such as the final status of the Palestinian autonomous region and Jerusalem. The negotiations are to be completed by May 1999.

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