LONDON (Jan. 22)
Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres indicated here Thursday that Israel considers Soviet action to ease the plight of Jews in the USSR more important than the restoration of diplomatic ties between Israel and the Soviet Union.
He hinted that such action could ease Israel’s objections to Soviet participation in an international conference on Middle East peace. Israel is not averse to Soviet participation, he said, but Moscow must “pay the price” by making its own peace with Israel, and Israel’s top priority is the rights and well-being of Soviet Jews.
Addressing an audience of Anglo-Jewish leaders, Peres recalled that Israel raised that issue at the brief meeting between Israeli and Soviet representatives in Helsinki last August and the Russians were furious that a small country dared to lay down conditions to a superpower.
The Russians wanted to discuss the status of Russian Orthodox Church properties in the Holy Land, Peres said. “Aren’t people more important than property?” he asked. “We hope they (the Soviet leaders) will change their attitude toward Russian Jews. Then we won’t place so much importance on having Russian diplomats in Ramat Gan.” Ramat Gan is a suburb of Tel Aviv where many embassies are located.
PEACE PROCESS WITH JORDAN
Peres also stressed the need to maintain the impetus of the peace process with Jordan. He claimed that Israel has “paved the way” by modifying its policies in the West Bank.
The Israeli Foreign Minister called for British and European economic aid to Jordan and other Arab countries of the Middle East suffering economically from the drop in oil prices. “At the gates of hunger you’ll always have an assembly of bitterness and revolt,” he warned. He referred also to the Iraq-Iran war which he called a now in situation.
“Victory for Iran will pose a religious menace for the Arabs. If Iraq wins, it will be a religious menace to the (Arab-Israeli) peace process,” Peres said.
MEETING WITH THATCHER
He delivered his address before going to meetings with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and with leaders of other political parties. Thatcher is preparing to visit Moscow in about six weeks and Peres is apparently seeking her good offices to probe Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s attitude toward Israel.
But his main purpose of meeting with Thatcher is apparently to build on the good relations he established with her when he was Prime Minister of Israel during the first two years of the unity coalition government.