JERUSALEM (Jul. 22)
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres told the Knesset Wednesday that the Soviet Union had agreed in principle to several significant concessions with respect to Soviet Jews demanded by Israel before it granted visas to the Soviet consular delegation which arrived here July 12.
Three senior members of the delegation left Israel for Cyprus Tuesday night, reportedly enroute to Moscow for consultations. But they will return, the head of the delegation, Yevgeny Antipov, said before his departure.
The delegation is the first official Soviet mission to Israel since Moscow broke off diplomatic relations 20 years ago. Its stated task is to inspect Soviet property in Israel and renew the passports of about 2,200 Soviet nationals here. The latter are functionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian women married to Israeli Arabs. The property is mostly Church property.
But the visit raised speculation here and abroad that the delegation could be the vanguard of a permanent Soviet diplomatic presence in Israel in the future. Peres said that in return for Israeli visas, the Soviets agreed to increase the number of exit visas granted to Soviet Jews to release Prisoners of Zion and to expand religious freedom for Soviet Jews.
He told the Knesset there was an “improvement” in all of those areas. He expressed confidence that the Soviets eventually would allow a reciprocal visit to the USSR by an Israeli consular delegation, though Moscow has rejected this so far.
SOVIET OFFICIAL DISMISSES SPECULATION
Antipov, who heads the consular division of the Soviet Foreign Ministry, said before leaving that no other Foreign Ministry officials would be joining the delegation for the time being. He dismissed speculation that the delegation might be enlarged and authorized to discuss broader issues of bilateral relations when he returns.
Shortly after his arrival in Israel, Antipov told reporters that his delegation would return to the USSR before their 90-day visas expire but he was sure they will be replaced by “other officials” of “a consular nature.”
Leaving with him Tuesday night were Alexei Chestyakov, a Middle East affairs expert; and Vladimir Kruglyakov, First Secretary of the delegation. Another senior member of the delegation, Genryk Flachin, was a member of the Soviet group that met briefly with Israeli representatives in Helsinki last August.
The Soviet delegation is staying at the Tel Aviv Hilton Hotel. It rented a temporary office in Ramat Gan to conduct its business here. Its only known contact with Israeli officials was a short meeting July 14 with Yaacov Aviad, head of the Foreign Ministry’s consular division. Aviad described their talks as “extremely positive” and a “good beginning” but did not elaborate. There was no other official comment here on the visit until Peres’ remarks in the Knesset Wednesday. Earlier, the Foreign Minister had urged that the visit “not be blown out of proportion.”
Last week, Haaretz quoted the Foreign Ministry’s Political Director General, Yossi Beilin, as suggesting that the Soviet delegation was sent to Israel to test Arab reaction to a possible improvement in Soviet-Israel relations.