Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin concluded talks here this week with high- level Russian officials and heralded a new era of cooperation between his country and theirs.
“I hope that we are starting to gradually bring about a change in the relationship between Russia, a great country, and Israel, a small but independent country,” he said at a news conference Tuesday.
The Middle East peace negotiations, along with discussions about trade accords and anti-Semitism, were the focus of discussions Monday and Tuesday.
“We want peace in the Middle East and I think that Russian interests correspond with ours,” Rabin said after meeting with Ivan Rybkin, speaker of the Russian Parliament’s lower house.
Rabin also met with President Boris Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev and Defense Minister Pavel Grachev.
Rabin’s four-day trip to Russia, the first ever by an Israeli prime minister, was scheduled to end Wednesday. It came one week after a similar trip by Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat.
The two leaders were invited to Moscow by Yeltsin after Middle East peace talks ground to a standstill following the Feb. 25 massacre of Palestinians in Hebron.
The invitations were widely seen as reflections of Russia’s recent attempts to reassert itself as a world power. It is officially a co-sponsor, along with the United States, of the Middle East peace process begun in Madrid in 1991. But Russia has been inactive lately on the diplomatic front, consumed by its own internal problems.
During a meeting Monday, Rabin heard assurances from Prime Minister Chernomyrdin that a new wave of anti-Semitism would not surface in Russia.
Fears of a resurgence of anti-Semitism have arisen in Russia’s Jewish community following the surprise victory in last December’s parliamentary elections of ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who has spouted anti-Jewish rhetoric in a number of public speeches since then.
After meeting with Rabin, Chernomyrdin told reporters that “no Zhirinovsky will be able to incite” a new wave of anti-Semitism in Russia.
“I can tell you unequivocally that this will not happen,” he said.
The subject of anti-Semitism had been a topic of discussion in several of Rabin’s meetings, the prime minister said.
“In every meeting I reminded everyone to whom I talked that when Hitler wrote `Mein Kampf’ no one believed it would happen – and it happened,” he told reporters.
“Therefore, whenever and wherever we see racism, anti-Semitism, fascism and neo-Nazism raise its head, it’s important that people will learn the lessons of the past,” he said.
“Everywhere I heard that everyone is aware of the danger,” he added.
At the news conference Tuesday, Rabin said his Russian hosts had not put forward any new or concrete proposals to push forward the Middle East peace talks. But he did say that the resumption of negotiations between Israel and Syria had been discussed.
As Syria’s longtime ally and arms supplier, Russia has a potentially influential role in negotiations between the two countries.
Russia’s first deputy prime minister, Oleg Soskovets, arrived Monday in Syria to discuss “pressing issues of bilateral cooperation” and Middle East peace, according to the Itar-Tass news agency.
During Rabin’s one-hour meeting with Yeltsin on Tuesday – an encounter described by both sides as “very warm” – the Russian president told him that Soskovets was scheduled to discuss with Syrian President Hafez Assad the issue of Israelis missing in action since the 1982 War in Lebanon.
The deputy premier, Rabin was told as well, also had directives to encourage Syria to resume peace talks with Israel.
Among other issues discussed by the two men was the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, an issue of deep concern for Israel and for Russia. The latter faces a rising tide of militant Islamic activity in some of the newly independent states of the former Soviet Union.
Yeltsin reiterated assurances given earlier to Rabin that Russia was not going to supply new weaponry to Syria, but merely provide spare parts.
Rabin stated Tuesday that he had signed six bilateral accords on Israeli- Russian cooperation in areas such as science, technology and agriculture. He added that he expected to sign a wide-ranging trade accord before he left Russia.
In other comments, he said that he had invited many Russian leaders to visit Israel and that Defense Minister Pavel Grachev had in principle accepted the offer.
“We discussed with the Ministry of Defense the possibility of better relationships and better acquaintances between our two defense systems,” he said.
Among his other engagements while in the Russian capital, Rabin, a former army chief of staff, addressed the Russian army’s high command.
Rabin’s visit to Moscow concluded with a mass “Salute to Israel” held in the presence of 5,000 members of Moscow’s Jewish community.
Rabin was scheduled to spend Wednesday in St. Petersburg, where he was to meet with the Jewish community.
The Israeli leader told reporters that he has direct ties to the city, since his mother left St. Petersburg 75 years ago to move to the land that eventually became Israel.