ATHENS (Jan. 14)
Greece and Israel, which do not have full diplomatic relations, may be moving in that direction. David Kimche, Director General of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, concluded a series of meetings with Greek officials today with the surprise announcement that a member of the Israeli government, Minister of Tourism Moshe Sharir, has been officially invited to visit Greece.
Sharir, a Likud Liberal, will be the first Israeli minister to visit Greece in more than 20 years; the last such visit, in the early ’60s, was by Abba Eban, then Minister of Education.
An even bigger surprise was Kimche’s statement to the press that Greek Foreign Minister Karlos Papoulias has accepted, in principle, an invitation to visit Israel. Kimche made his announcements after a meeting with Papoulias that lasted more than four hours.
It was the first such meeting by a Greek Foreign Minister with a ranking Israeli official. Kimche described it and his other talks here as “very useful.”
The last time a Greek minister — the Minister of Agriculture — visited Israel was in the autumn of 1981 during the waning days of the Conservative government that ruled Greece. No dates have been set for the Sharir or Papoulias visits but sources believe the will take place this year. The two countries will also exchange visits by delegations of their respective parliaments.
MUTUAL INTERESTS EXPLAINED
Relations between Greece and Israel have been strained for years because of Greece’s outspoken support of the Palestinian cause and its granting of quasi-diplomatic status to the Palestine Liberation Organization which Israel regards as a mortal enemy Israeli interests in Greece are represented only on the Consular level.
Asked if he and the Greek Foreign Minister had discussed an elevation of diplomatic representation, Kimche said he had explained to the Greek officials that it is as much in their interests as Israel’s to normalize relations, ” Yet we made it clear that we are not asking for any favors.”
He said it was agreed to re-activate two agreements between Israel and Greece which have been dormant, one on agriculture and one on tourism. The joint agricultural committee is due to meet in Athens in March.
Kimche said he explained to the Greek officials what Israel has been doing to find a peaceful solution to the Middle East conflict. He said the obstacles were put up by the Arab side, notably the PLO.
When a reporter noted that Greece has asked the PLO for help to prevent terrorist activities here, Kimche observed that it was like “calling on the Mafia to preserve the law.” He declined to say whether Greece and Israel would cooperate to combat terrorism. But he acknowledged that the subject was raised during his talks here.
Israel’s Consul here, Yehezkel Barnea, said that normalization of relations between the two countries is still far off but there is a change for the better in the atmosphere.
Two newspapers, the Communist daily Rizospastis and the pro-government daily Elefterotypia, quoted an anonymous government source as saying relations between Greece and Israel will improve dramatically this year. Political observers here believe the objective of Kimche’s visit was to test Arab reaction to the possibility of improved relations.
Kimche is going to Helsinki before returning to Israel. Finland represents Soviet interests in Israel with which Moscow has no diplomatic relations. Asked if his trip there has anything to do with Soviet-Israeli relations, Kimche said it did not, but added, “I must admit that a lot of Israeli diplomats around the world are talking to Soviet diplomats.”