JERUSALEM (May. 25)
The Soviet Union will issue visas to a five-member Israeli consular delegation immediately after the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting next week, the Foreign Ministry announced here Tuesday night.
The ministry said this was promised by a ranking Soviet diplomat to an Israeli official at a meeting in Geneva on Tuesday.
The delegation will be the first Israeli diplomatic mission to the Soviet Union since Moscow broke ties with Israel 21 years ago.
A Soviet consular delegation has been in Israel since June 1987, but the Soviet authorities had refused until now to allow a reciprocal visit by Israeli representatives.
Premier Yitzhak Shamir welcomed the breakthrough. “The presence of our delegation (in Moscow) will be of the greatest importance,” he said Wednesday.
According to the Foreign Ministry’s announcement, the participants in the meeting in Geneva on Tuesday were Nimrod Novick, a close political adviser to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and Vladimir Terasov, deputy director of the Middle East department at the Soviet Foreign Ministry.
A SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENT
The two had met in Helsinki, Finland, six months ago to work out details of the agreement. As it emerged, the Israeli delegation would be handling only minor matters in Moscow.
Terasov said the visas were held up because Israel had insisted that its delegation be given the right to issue Israeli visas to Russian Jews seeking to emigrate. Apparently, that will not be permitted.
Nevertheless, Shamir considers the development significant.
“We have always wanted friendly relations with the Soviet Union, both because of its superpower status and because millions of our brethren live in the Soviet Union, and we want to talk with Moscow on their fate,” he said.
The Likud leader has always been wary of Soviet intentions and opposes any role for them in the Middle East peace process.
Asked whether the decision on the visas indicated a genuine change in Soviet policy, Shamir replied, “Let’s wait for the forthcoming Reagan-Gorbachev summit. Maybe the good news will come from it.”
POSSIBLE BOOST FOR PERES
President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev will hold their fourth summit meeting in Moscow from May 29 to June 2.
The Soviet move could be a political boost for Peres, Shamir’s arch rival in the upcoming Israeli election campaign.
Peres has cautiously welcomed Moscow’s new interest in the Middle East peace process and is prepared to accept Soviet participation in an international conference that would serve only to launch direct Israeli-Arab negotiations.
But until now, the Soviets have insisted on a larger role for the international conference.