JERUSALEM (Sep. 3)
The new Soviet foreign minister, Boris Pankin, told an Israeli journalist this week that there is no reason to postpone the Middle East peace conference that Moscow and Washington are hoping to convene in October.
In a conversation with Gideon Kotz of the Labor Party daily newspaper Davar, Pankin also said he hopes to make a visit soon to the Middle East, including Israel.
“I hope to visit the region shortly, perhaps before October,” Pankin said. “There is no reason why the conference should not take place in October.”
The Soviet statesman’s American counterpart, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker, is also expected to make another trip to the region soon, possibly after a visit to Moscow next week. His chief order of business will be to settle the still-unresolved issue of Palestinian representation at the conference.
President Bush hinted at a news conference Monday in Kennebunkport, Maine, that such obstacles could delay the conference. But he said that the current instability in the Soviet Union would not adversely affect the timetable.
Pankin told Kotz that the Soviet position regarding the Middle East peace process has not changed since the current upheaval in Moscow began with the attempted coup by Soviet hardliners on Aug. 19. He said the Soviet Union would “certainly” continue cooperating closely with Washington in this matter.
Pankin said that Soviet foreign policy would likely be more complicated than before, with the various republics becoming active in major policy issues. But he pointed out that the major republics share a common outlook on most key foreign policy issues facing the Soviet Union.
He said he expected the leading foreign policy role to continue to be played by the central government in Moscow.
Pankin gave no commitment regarding the restoration of full diplomatic relations with Israel .But he added that he hoped “our relations with Israel will continue to be good, as were my own relations with your ambassador in Prague.”
Pankin served as Soviet envoy to Prague before being elevated to foreign minister last week in the wake of President Mikhail Gorbachev’s summary ouster of Alexander Bessmertnykh for inadequately opposing the three-day coup.