Soviets Ready to Upgrade Relations with Israel, Ezer Weizman Reports

The Soviet Union has agreed to upgrade diplomatic relations with Israel just short of the ambassadorial level, Ezer Weizman announced Wednesday, after a two-hour meeting in Moscow with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.

But his report was not confirmed by Soviet officials. And it was overshadowed by the Kremlin’s announcement Wednesday that the Soviet Union would allow the Palestine Liberation Organization to set up an embassy in Moscow.

A statement issued by the Soviet Foreign Ministry and reported by the Soviet press agency Tass said the Kremlin had “given its consent to the reorganization” of the PLO mission in Moscow as the “embassy of the State of Palestine in the Soviet Union.”

Political analysts said the Kremlin’s decision to upgrade the PLO’s diplomatic status had been expected and was likely timed to mute Arab criticism of Shevardnadze’s meeting with Weizman.

The meeting at the Kremlin was the first time a visiting Israeli Cabinet minister was received at such a high level since the Soviet Union severed relations with Israel in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Weizman, who described his talks with Shevardnadze as “interesting,” said the Soviet foreign minister indicated his government’s willingness to upgrade diplomatic relations with Israel to the legation level. A legation is a diplomatic mission headed by a minister, one rank below ambassador.

EXCLUSION OF OFFICIAL ‘SHAMEFUL’

Weizman’s announcement, if true, would appear to mark a major advance in the slow process of restoring full diplomatic ties.

But it was no personal triumph for the Israeli minister of science and development, who is fresh from a major confrontation with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

Weizman incurred the wrath of some officials here for agreeing, at the insistence of his Soviet hosts, to meet with Shevardnadze unaccompanied by the head of the Israeli consular mission in Moscow, Arye Levin.

Levin is Israel’s senior diplomat in the Soviet capital, notwithstanding the low ranking of his mission in the hierarchy of diplomacy.

His exclusion from Shevardnadze’s meeting with Weizman was viewed by some officials here as an intentional slight to Shamir and his Likud bloc, which controls the Foreign Ministry.

“Shameful,” said one Foreign Ministry source. Others claimed that Weizman violated a solemn promise to the prime minister not to engage in diplomatic dialogues during his trip.

Weizman’s response in an interview with Israel Radio was, “I did my best.”

He said he tried hard to have Levin included in his invitation to the Kremlin. But faced with the alternative of abandoning the meeting with Shevardnadze, he chose to go ahead without Levin.

Weizman was accompanied by Eliahu Zemtzov, a distinguished Hebrew University professor who has close contacts with the Soviet Academy of Sciences, which sponsored Weizman’s visit.

The controversy over his conduct in Moscow was compounded by the fact that Weizman, a Laborite, was forced to resign last week from the top policy-making Inner Cabinet, because of his alleged contacts with officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Shamir had, in fact, fired him from the government, but then allowed him to retain the science portfolio in the full Cabinet, in order to avert a Labor-Likud coalition crisis.

Shamir asserted in a speech Tuesday night that Weizman eventually would be drummed out of the government.

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