Soviet Official Extends to Arens Invitation He Could Only Refuse

Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze extended a friendly invitation to Moshe Arens on Thursday that he must have known the Israeli foreign minister would not accept.

The Soviet official asked Arens to meet with members of the Palestine Liberation Organization, offering his “good offices” to host such a meeting in the Soviet Union.

Arens is a leader in Israel’s Likud bloc, which is known for its firm stance against all contact with the PLO.

Shevardnadze told reporters of his offer after meeting with Arens here for an hour and 15 minutes. The meeting appeared to have been cordial, despite the difference of views on the PLO.

Arens said that the spirit of the discussions was “friendly,” though Shevardnadze would only describe the encounter as “businesslike and constructive” — which, in diplomatic parlance, usually signals disagreements.

Both men were positive about contacts between Soviet and Israeli leaders becoming more frequent and, in Shevardnadze’s words, “systematic.”

Arens said after the meeting that he was pleased that the Soviet Union did not reject Israel’s peace initiative. He said he still held out hope that the Soviets could eventually endorse it.

His optimism appeared to have some basis.

Shevardnadze said he noted during his meeting with Arens that “there are reasonable elements” in the Israeli initiative.

He said that although the Soviet Union continues to endorse an international peace conference as the ultimate means of resolving the Middle East conflict, it does not “exclude the idea” of holding Palestinian elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as proposed in the Israeli plan.

PLO MUST BE ‘RECKONED WITH’

But he reiterated his country’s position that the PLO must play a central role in negotiations.

“If the PLO is ignored in the process of the settlement, such a settlement won’t take place,” Shevardnadze said. “The PLO is a real force — a force to be reckoned with.”

The Soviet foreign minister called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s recent peace proposals “interesting,” but did not make a point of urging Arens to accept the 10-point Egyptian plan.

When asked if the Soviet Union felt “left out” of the trilateral meeting that Arens, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker and Egyptian Foreign Minister Esmat Abdel Meguid were to hold later in the day, the white-haired diplomat smiled.

“We do not easily take offense,” he quipped.

The Israeli and Soviet diplomats also discussed the development of relations between their two countries. Though they do not enjoy full diplomatic relations, Israel and the Soviet Union maintain consular delegations in each other’s countries.

Shevardnadze said that “possible economic links at a non-governmental level” were discussed.

Arens said that he was told by Shevardnadze that the subject of direct flights to Israel from the Soviet Union “will be given consideration by the authorities in Moscow.”

Shevardnadze said he was aware that talks on the subject were in progress between El Al and Aeroflot, the two countries’ national airlines.

The Soviet foreign minister paused cautiously when he was asked about an invitation to visit the Soviet Union that was extended to Shimon Peres by Genrikh Borovikh, a member of the Soviet trade delegation that met with the Israeli finance minister in New York last week.

“Borovikh represents an autonomous organization: the Soviet Peace committee,” Shevardnadze said. He said that in his capacity as foreign minister, he would not be directly involved in such a visit.

But Shevardnadze did not rule out the possibility of meeting with Peres, should such a visit take place.

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