Israel and Soviet Union Agree to Establish Consular Relations

Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and his Soviet counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, announced after meeting here Sunday that the two countries had established full consular relations.

But the two officials would not confirm reports from Jerusalem that the Soviet Union had given final approval to an agreement reached last year on the establishment of direct flights between Moscow and Israel.

During their 90-minute meeting, Levy and Shevardnadze drew up a three-point agreement in which they said that consulates general would be set up in Moscow and Jerusalem; formal channels of communication would be established between the two foreign ministries; and the two countries would conduct “an ongoing dialogue to establish peace and security in the Middle East.”

Levy described the meeting as “friendly” and said he and Shevardnadze had agreed on the need for more regular consultations between the two foreign ministries on every level.

“I don’t see how we, as foreign ministers, should wait again for the convening of the United Nations to meet,” Levy told reporters.

Since July 1988, Israel has had a six-member consular delegation in Moscow. But it has operated under the auspices of the Dutch Embassy, which has represented Israeli interests since Moscow severed diplomatic relations with the Jewish state in 1967.

Likewise, Moscow has a consular delegation in Tel Aviv, but it, too, does not enjoy the diplomatic status of a consulate.

The move to full consular relations means “that we are sovereign and independent in our own mission,” said Arye Levin, chief of the Israeli consular delegation in Moscow, who participated in the meeting here with Shevardnadze.

“We’re not perpetually enjoying the hospitality of another nation,” he said.

A STEP TOWARD FULL RELATIONS

Sunday’s agreement is the latest in a series of steps bringing the Soviet Union and Israel closer together. It comes two weeks after Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev met in Moscow with two Israeli Cabinet officials, Yitzhak Moda’i and Yuval Ne’eman.

But while the agreement upgrades diplomatic relations, it falls short of a complete restoration of full diplomatic ties. However, Israeli officials are clearly hopeful that the two sides are moving closer toward that longtime Israeli goal.

“Full consular relations are not very far from full diplomatic relations,” Levin pointed out optimistically.

Notification that the Kremlin had approved direct flights between Moscow and Tel Aviv came over the holiday weekend in a surprise telephone call Soviet Finance Minister Valentin Pavlov made to Israeli Transport Minister Moshe Katsav.

Pavlov reportedly told Katsav that Gorbachev had given his assent to an agreement on direct flights signed last year by El Al Israel Airlines and the Soviet carrier Aeroflot.

The news, which is expected to facilitate the immigration of thousands of Soviet Jews to Israel, was immediately welcomed in Israel by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

In New York, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the American Jewish Committee also hailed the development.

But at the United Nations, Shevardnadze and Levy had no announcement about the air agreement, which reportedly calls for one direct flight per week, beginning sometime in October.

When asked about direct flights, Shevardnadze would only say that the issue “is a complex question, and we decided that we will return to that question again.”

DISCUSSION OF SETTLEMENTS

One stumbling block toward the establishment of direct flights has been Moscow’s concern that the Soviet Jews who take advantage of them will be settled in the West Bank or Gaza Strip.

Shevardnadze pressed Levy on that issue Sunday. The Israeli foreign minister said he explained that “Israel has no policy of sending immigrants to Judea and Samaria, but if you think Israel will forbid someone from living there, this is the equivalent of dictating policy to a foreign country.”

Levy also reported that Shevardnadze asked him why Israel opposes an international conference as a forum for solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Soviet Union has long supported the convening of an international conference and has said it would not restore full diplomatic ties with Israel until it agrees to such a forum.

Levy said he explained to the Soviet official that “we don’t think an international conference is the way to peace in the Middle East.” He also said Israel believed such a conference would only lead to strained relations between Israel and the United States.

The Israeli foreign minister said that after he made this position clear, Shevardnadze suggested that the two talk about new ideas for peace in the future.

Levy said he extended his hand to the Soviet foreign minister and declared, “You have a partner in this.” The two men then shook hands.

(JTA correspondent Hugh Orgel in Tel Aviv contributed to this report.)

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