JERUSALEM (Jan. 19)
Israeli officials seemed elated Tuesday by the announcement in Moscow that an Israeli diplomatic mission will be allowed to visit the Soviet Union.
It will be the first such mission to the USSR in the more than 20 years since the Soviet Union broke diplomatic relations with Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. A Soviet consular mission has been in Israel for the past seven months.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres welcomed the news, according to statements from the Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry respectively.
The three-member Soviet consular mission arrived in Israel last June. Shamir was inclined at the time to reject it unless a similar Israeli delegation was invited to Moscow. But the premier subsequently waived that condition.
The Soviets’ visas were due to expire Jan. 31. They were extended last week until mid-February. Now, however, they may be extended for a longer period, in light of Moscow’s decision. Israeli officials had made it clear in recent days that this time Israel would demand reciprocity.
The announcement in Moscow was made Tuesday morning by Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov.
He told a news conference that no date has been set for the Israeli visit, but that a timetable was discussed at an unannounced meeting Tuesday in Helsinki, Finland, between Soviet representatives and an Israeli delegation. He did not elaborate.
According to Gerasimov, the purpose of the Israeli mission would be to acquaint itself with the work of the Dutch Embassy in Moscow, which has been representing Israel’s interests in the Soviet Union for more than two decades. He denied, however, that the visit would be a precursor to the re-establishment of diplomatic ties between Israel and the Soviet Union.
Gerasimov stressed that could come about only after a settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Soviet consular delegation, which has offices in Tel Aviv, came here last June to examine Soviet property and review the status of Soviet nationals living in Israel. The property is mainly that of the Russian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem. Most of the Soviet nationals here are monks.