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Optimism Dampened over Soviet Jewry Situation As Russians Deny Reports

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Reports from Moscow Thursday dampened the optimism which arose here earlier in the week that large numbers of Soviet Jews will soon be allowed to leave for Israel and that the Soviet Union is moving toward a thaw in its relations with the Jewish State.

A Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman was quoted as saying there were no arrangements for a larger number of exit permits to be granted and that no invitation has been sent to Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres to visit Moscow.

According to reports from Moscow Thursday, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov said, “We cannot guarantee an exact number of applications that can be presented and receive favorable outcomes,” a reference to reports that 11,000-12,000 Soviet Jews would be permitted to leave in the next 9-12 months. “There will be no quotas,” he said.

Peres told Israel Radio Thursday that he hadn’t heard of any invitation. “There may be such intentions but so far I’ve received no invitation,” he said. Soviet officials were also reported to have denied arrangements were being made for a mutual exchange of consular delegations with Israel.

Media reports Wednesday said a Soviet consular delegation would visit Israel shortly but that the Soviets have not agreed to a return visit by an Israeli delegation. Diplomatic quarters in Jerusalem stressed that the Soviets were made aware of Israel’s insistence on mutuality and reciprocity when Israeli and Soviet representatives meet briefly at Helsinki last August.

But Soviet officials told Israel Radio this week that reciprocity did not apply to consular delegations because “the Soviet Union has far more nationals and property in Israel than there are Israelis or Israeli property in the Soviet Union.”

WARNS AGAINST EXAGGERATIONS

Premier Yitzhak Shamir said Thursday that there were some encouraging signs of a thaw with Moscow. “But we shouldn’t exaggerate. I really hope that we shall finally achieve a breakthrough and see many Jews leaving Russia, and especially coming to Israel,” he said. He added, “If they don’t come here, there is no importance to their departure.”

Despite lack of verification of reports that a large-scale departure of Soviet Jews is imminent, the Absorption Ministry and Jewish Agency have begun to prepare for their arrival. The Transport Ministry is marshalling Israel’s entire fleet of passenger aircraft to bring large numbers of Soviet Jews from Rumania.

Reports earlier in the week said the Soviets agreed that all Russian Jews holding Israel visas would be allowed to fly directly to Israel via Rumania.

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