Pausing from his exhausting schedule Friday night, Nelson Mandela met with another famed political prisoner, former Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky, to exchange views over the South African leader’s controversial embrace of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
After a half-hour session at the Biltmore, which Sharansky later described as a “very warm meeting,” the men briefly emerged from Mandela’s quarters on the sixth floor of the hotel, smiled, and posed for news photographers.
Sharansky, 42, who emigrated to Israel after he was released by Soviet authorities in 1986 after spending 8 1/2 years in prison, said the two men parted over Arafat but agreed that “the struggle for human rights is universal, international and applies to all the countries.”
Mandela was released from prison in February after being held for 27 years.
Sharansky flew from New York to Los Angeles to see Mandela in a meeting arranged by Jewish leaders concerned about Mandela’s continuing support for Arafat and other Arab heads of state.
During a meeting between Jewish leaders and the South African leader in Geneva on June 10, Mandela mentioned that he had read “Fear No Evil,” Sharansky’s account of his life in a Soviet prison. Afterward, the Jewish leaders urged Sharansky to talk with Mandela and seek common ground between the two sides.
Instead, the men agreed to disagree. “He agreed with the principal (of Israeli concerns about Arafat) but he did not agree that Mr. Arafat wants to destroy the state of Israel,” Sharansky said.