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Peres Meets with Soviet Officials; Mideast Peace Conference Discussed

May 11, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres met here today with two senior Soviet officials for a two-hour exchange of views, which is being viewed as another step in the continuing thaw of relations between the two countries.

Peres is scheduled to meet with the two officials, Aleksander Zotov and Aleksander Weber, prior to his departure Wednesday from Madrid, where he is attending the Socialist International.

According to participants at the meeting, Zotov, the chief Soviet spokesman, continuously stressed that Israel had no reason to fear an international peace conference on the Middle East. Presumably speaking on behalf of the Soviet government, Zotov said the conference would be co-chaired by Americans and Russians and would not have the power to impose a settlement.

Zotov said each side had the right to present joint or separate proposals. He stressed that Moscow, in its own perception, was very forthcoming and showed a large measure of flexibility.

Weber is working in Moscow as a top aide to Anatoly Dobrynin, the former ambassador to the United States, who is the head of the Communist Party’s Department for International Relations. Zotov is a senior official at the department, with a special responsibility for handling developments in the Middle East.

On the question of Palestinian representation, Zotov said that one could not disregard the Palestine Liberation Organization, but that Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had urged PLO chief Yasir Arafat to recognize Israel.

Peres responded that Arafat was prompt to deny that, which again showed that the Palestinian leader lacked the courage or the ability or the will to make a decision which would enhance a peaceful development.

Zotov attempted to prove that Arafat’s denial was not clear cut, and that the PLO leader faced fierce opposition within his own organization.

When the issue of Jewish emigration came up, Zotov noted that the numbers of exit visas for Soviet Jews have raised considerably.

After the luncheon meeting with Peres, Zotov was asked whether at least the music had changed between the Soviet Union and Israel.

“I was never very good at music,” he said, “but we are certainly trying to tune in to what we hear from Israel. We are trying to be very forthcoming, and we know that we don’t have a monopoly on wisdom.”


Meanwhile, progress in relations between Israel and Hungary continues to develop, as Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has been invited to visit the Eastern bloc country following Peres’ brief but apparently fruitful stopover in Budapest on Sunday.

Peres described his meetings with the Hungarian leadership as “very positive.” He met for four hours with the Hungarian prime minister, vice prime minister and foreign minister, and with the latter two at another session.

Peres said that the Hungarians showed interest in economic ties with Israel, but he would not speculate about full diplomatic relations.

Sources who disclosed Shamir’s invitation did not say when the prime minister would make the trip, but they indicated the invitation to Shamir was independent of the one extended to Peres. It was arranged discreetly with the Budapest government by Shamir’s close aide, Likud Knesset member Dan Meridor.

Peres’ visit was organized by an Israeli businessman, Shaul Eisenberg, who has extensive trading interests in Hungary. The Israeli foreign minister was accompanied by his close aide, Yossi Beilin, political director general of the Foreign Ministry.


Beilin, who returned home Monday, described the Peres visit metaphorically. He said to some degree each side “was speaking to the wife — but thinking of the mother-in-law.”

He meant that Israel and Hungary are slowly expanding their bilateral ties in trade, tourism and political links, while still aware of the interests of the other’s patron power — the United States and the Soviet Union.

It was generally agreed by diplomats that Peres would not have been invited to Budapest without approval from Moscow. The Hungarians apparently hope that any improvement of their relations with Israel will do them no harm in Washington.

Peres described in a radio interview Tuesday the hospitality he and his aides enjoyed in Budapest. They were accommodated in the government’s official guest house, where they were pleasantly surprised to find themselves serenaded by Israeli music.

Another sign of thaw in Israel’s relations with Eastern Europe was the reported intention of the Bulgarian government to invite Premier Shamir’s Bulgarian-born wife, Shulamit, to Sofia next fall to attend official ceremonies commemorating the rescue of 50,000 Bulgarian Jews from deportation by the Nazis in World War II.

( Jerusalem correspondent David Landau contributed to this report.)

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