JERUSALEM (Apr. 27)
An offer by a Soviet trading company to open a channel of trade with Israel has aroused wide speculation that it might represent an initiative by Moscow to end its 10-year trade embargo and possibly signal that the Russians want to restore diplomatic relations with Israel. But experienced officials here said today that the approach has no political or diplomatic implications.
The overture was in the form of a letter from the Paris office of Intorg, the leading Soviet trading company, to the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce. It proposed that Israeli companies might want to import Russian printing equipment and wood pulp for the manufacture of paper.
Zvi Amit, president of the Chamber of Commerce, said that as far as he knew this was the first approach of its kind since the Soviets broke diplomatic and trade relations with Israel in 1967. He noted, however, that Israel does trade with some Soviet-bloc countries and with many other countries with which it has no diplomatic ties. The Intorg letter did not mention prices for delivered Russian products. However, Amit said, “It’s no accident, it must be a message.”
Officials here said the government would certainly not discourage trade links with the USSR. But they pointed out that the Russians are aggressive traders always on the look-out for new markets. They cautioned that the Paris letter did not necessarily presage a thaw in the Soviet attitude toward Israel. But it was the latest in what some observers here believe to be a series of small hints that Moscow is interested in improving relations with Israel in order to have a more authoritative role at the Geneva conference when it is resumed.
Such implications were firmly discounted by Foreign Minister Yigal Allon at last Sunday’s Cabinet meeting. He denied reports originating in Cairo that the Russians had told a PLO mission in Moscow that they would renew ties with Israel before the end of the year.
THREE SOVIET OFFICERS VISIT ISRAEL
However, another incident which occurred last week but was revealed by the Defense Ministry only today, has fed speculation that there may be an improvement in the climate of Israel-Soviet relations. Ministry sources disclosed that last Thursday, Israel’s Independence Day, three Soviet officers attached to the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organization (UNTSO) in Egypt visited Israel accompanied by American officers from the UN peace-keeping forces.
They toured the Old City of Jerusalem and lunched with Gen. Ensio Sillosvuo, commander of UN forces in the Middle East who had invited the officers to his headquarters in Jerusalem for lunch. (According to some press reports abroad, some sources here sold that Defense Minister Shimon Peres had granted special permission for the visit at the request of Sillosvuo and on his promise that it would not serve as a precedent. This, however, could not be immediately confirmed.)
Israel does not normally admit UN personnel serving in countries with which it has no diplomatic relations. The Soviet officers were based on the western side of the Suez Canal. UNTSO was established in 1949 to supervise the original Israeli-Egyptian armistice agreements.