JERUSALEM (May. 27)
Israel has rapidly emerged from diplomatic limbo in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In the past 18 months, it has established full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union –which soon became defunct — with China and India, formerly hostile to the Jewish state, and with all the countries of Eastern Europe.
It also has re-established ties with most of the African states that broke them after the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a gesture of solidarity with Egypt.
This week, Israel renewed diplomatic relations with the West African nation of Sierra Leone and ceremoniously forged ties, for the first time, with Belarus — formerly Byelorussia — one of the 15 independent republics that once formed the Soviet Union.
Visiting Jerusalem for the occasion were the prime minister of Belarus, Vyacheslav Kebich, and his foreign minister, Pyotr Kravchenko. They were received by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and Foreign Minister David Levy.
Kebich was especially pleased that Israel participated in the international conference in Lisbon last weekend to find ways to aid the economies of the former Soviet republics.
He said Israel’s know-how in agriculture and medicine could be of value to the republics. He believes Israel’s attendance at the conference demonstrated the international community’s serious resolve to put resources, manpower and skills at the republics’ disposal.
Kebich and Kravchenko told their Israeli hosts their country would feel the effects of the 1986 nuclear accident at Chernobyl for 300 years.
Although Chernoby1 is in Ukraine, Belarus got much of the deadly fallout. It intends to divest itself entirely of nuclear weapons and become a neutral state, the Israelis were told.
VISIT BY EXPERTS PLANNED
Levy said Israel appreciated Belarus’ efforts to prevent the transfer of tactical nuclear devices from the territory of the former Soviet Union to Middle Eastern countries.
Sierra Leone was represented here by its foreign minister, Ahmed Ramadan Dumbuya. Levy promised him that an Israeli mission of scientists and economists would visit his country shortly to decide in what areas Israeli help would be most productive.
Dumbuya noted that Sierra Leone is rich in natural resources but lacks trained manpower and know-how.
Sierra Leone not long ago issued stamps commemorating Columbus’ discovery of the New World that specifically honored Jews who accompanied Columbus on his voyages.
Asked about this, a diplomat at the Sierra Leone Consulate in New York told a reporter that “the Jewish people, or Israel, left a very impressive impact in Sierra Leone when we had relations with them.”
The envoy, who asked not to be identified, said that relations between the two countries from 1967 until 1973 “were very superb.
Israel made “very gigantic contributions to our development,” the envoy said.
(JTA staff writer Susan Birnbaum in New York contributed to this report.)