WASHINGTON (Feb. 20)
The Soviet Union is refusing to institute direct flights between Moscow and Israel, at least for the immediate future, Bush administration officials and Jewish leaders have confirmed.
But they said the United States is still hoping to persuade Moscow to implement an agreement on direct flights signed last fall by El Al Israel Airlines and its Soviet counterpart, Aeroflot.
Secretary of States James Baker raised the issue with Soviet officials during his recent visit to Moscow, but the “Soviet response to Secretary Baker was not encouraging,” State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Tuesday.
She would not reveal what the Soviets actually said.
At the White House, spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Tuesday that the United States is “disappointed” that they have not approved direct flights, “but we are hopeful that they may still have them.”
He said direct flights “would be helpful in increasing the number of Soviet emigrants to Israel.”
Martin Wenick, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, who just returned from the Soviet Union, said he was told by Soviet Foreign Ministry officials that the prospects for direct flights are not encouraging.
The Soviets did not reject implementing the agreement, but said it was not “in the cards” for the immediate future, Wenick said.
Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said he had learned from the State Department that the Soviets are not willing to implement the agreement at this time.
BUSH CONCERNED ABOUT ANTI-SEMITISM
Jewish leaders who met with President Bush and with Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger just prior to the Baker trip urged that the direct flights issue be raised.
They pointed out that regular flights to Israel through Budapest were booked up through January 1991. They also expressed the urgency of increasing the number of Jews actually leaving the Soviet Union, because of growing concern about anti-Semitism there.
Fitzwater said Tuesday that President Bush “is concerned about reports of growing anti-Semitism” in the Soviet Union.
Tutwiler said Baker presented the Soviets with actual anti-Semitic leaflets being distributed in the Soviet Union. Baker received the material from Bush, who was given them by Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
But Naftalin appeared disappointed that Baker had not mentioned anti-Semitism in his public appearances in Moscow. Only after Baker returned to Washington did the State Department announce that the secretary had raised the issue.
Naftalin also said he was concerned that Baker had not met with refuseniks while in Moscow, as has been the practice in the past. Baker said that this was because of the pressure of time, as well as an indication of improved human rights conditions in the Soviet Union.
But Naftalin called it a “signal” that the State Department is playing down human rights.
BUSH AGAINST FURTHER SETTLEMENT
The Soviet unwillingness to institute the El Al-Aeroflot agreement is believed to be in part the result of pressure from Arab nations. The Arabs have been lobbying the Soviets to curtail Jewish immigration, because they fear Israel will settle the new immigrants in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, thereby forcing out the Palestinians.
Fitzwater said it is “unfortunate” that Soviet Jews are settling in the West Bank. Bush “has made his views directly known” to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, he added.
Shamir has stressed that while it is not Israeli government policy to settle Soviet immigrants on the West Bank, it will not deny any Jew the right to live where he or she chooses.
Fitzwater reiterated the U.S. position that “we do not believe the new settlements in the occupied territories is helpful to the peace process, nor do we believe that encouraging Soviet emigrants to settle there is helpful to the peace process.”
But he stressed that concern about Jewish settlements on the West Bank “does not mean that we don’t want to increase the number of immigrants that are able to go to Israel.”