JERUSALEM (Aug. 20)
Diplomats in Europe and Israeli officials offered differing explanations for the surprise Soviet announcement Tuesday that further talks with Israel were off.
As Israeli delegates were returning home from the 90-minute meeting Monday with a Soviet team in Helsinki, an unnamed senior American diplomat in Bonn told Israel Radio that Israel’s raising of the Soviet Jewry issue at the onset of the talks was a tactical error.
He said that after a breach of relations of 20 years, “It would have been preferable to raise this issue in a more restrained manner — and not put the Israeli demands immediately to two low-level officials who had no mandate to discuss this matter.”
He indicated that Soviet Jews would have benefited if demands for their better treatment would have followed official efforts at improving relations.
But Mordechai Lador, Israel’s Ambassador to Finland, was quoted as saying “that the doors remain open” and Israel-Soviet contacts would be maintained via the Dutch and Finnish Foreign Ministries.
In announcing Soviet intentions, a spokesman said in Moscow Tuesday that a second day of meetings in Helsinki was cancelled because Israel insisted on raising “political questions,” including a statement urging improved treatment of Soviet Jews.
ISRAEL WILL CONTINUE RAISING SOVIET JEWRY ISSUE
Premier Shimon Peres responded Tuesday that Israel will continue to stress that issue. “In our eyes,” he said, “the issue of Soviet Jewry remains a central issue. We are not only a country, we are a people, and whatever will be will be. This matter remains at the focus of our attention.”
He said the Soviets could participate in the Mideast political process “only when and if it established diplomatic relations with Israel.”
Asked if he regarded the Moscow statement as a propaganda move, he said: “It’s very difficult to decipher the Soviet riddles. Why did they want to renew? Why, if they stopped — what is still not clear is why they stopped.
“What is clear is that Moscow is apparently very sensitive to the reactions of the Arab world, and it is inconceivable for there to be a meeting between us and the Russians without our raising the issue of Soviet Jewry.”
SOVIET STATEMENT TAKEN WITH GRAIN OF SALT
In Jerusalem, political sources Wednesday took the Soviet statement with a grain of salt. They said the Soviets have not said their final word, and the contacts would continue. They explained the Soviet comments were an attempt to appease the Arab countries.
The sources said they failed to understand the Soviet rage over the raising of the issue of Soviet Jewry, because Israeli leaders had made it clear that they would stress the issue.