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Soviets to Play Active Role in Mideast, Israeli Reports

January 21, 1988
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The Soviet Union considers resolution of the Arab Israeli conflict one of its top foreign policy priorities and intends to play an active role in promoting the Middle East peace process, an Israeli official told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency following a seven-hour meeting with a senior Soviet diplomat here Tuesday evening.

Nimrod Novick, foreign policy adviser to Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, met at the Soviet Embassy here with Gennady Terasov, who heads the Middle East desk at the Foreign Ministry in Moscow and shapes Soviet policy on Arab-Israeli issues.

In an exclusive interview with JTA immediately after leaving the Embassy, Novick said of possible Israeli diplomatic relations with Moscow: “It is well understood on both sides that relations will be part of the process of resuming peace efforts. In their (the Soviet) view, there has to be some progress before they are ready to resume full diplomatic relations.”

At their meeting, Terasov informed Novick that an Israeli diplomatic mission will be allowed to visit the Soviet Union. That decision was announced in Moscow shortly afterward by Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov.

It will be the first such mission to the USSR in the more than 20 years since the Soviet Union severed diplomatic ties with Israel at the time of the 1967 Six-Day War.

Novick told JTA that the timing of the visit depends on “organization and logistics,” but predicted that the trip will take place “in a matter of weeks.”

He said the Israeli government has yet to decide who will participate in the delegation. It is considered likely that Novick, who has been closely involved in the gradually thawing relationship between Moscow and Jerusalem for the past two years, will head the mission.

A Soviet consular delegation has been in Israel for the past seven months, headed initially by Terasov. The Israeli mission that will go to Moscow shortly will reflect Soviet acquiescence to Israel’s longstanding request for reciprocity.

According to reports from Israel Tuesday, the Israeli delegation will be led by a diplomat from the political echelon and will include a consular officer and a technician, who will insect the former Israel Embassy building in Moscow, vacant for more than two decades. The Soviets are expected to issue the group two-month visas.

Novick told JTA that his talks with Terasov were very friendly and may yield results in several areas. He said there were large areas of understanding between himself and Terasov on a possible international conference for Middle East peace, a formula strongly advocated by Peres, but opposed by Premier Yitzhak Shamir and his Likud bloc.

“There were also differences,” Novick said, “but they are well defined and we have ideas how to bridge them.”

Novick said the issue of Jewish emigration from the USSR was raised at the meeting. Asked if an increased number of exit visas can be expected, he replied, “We have seen lately a positive trend and I am hopeful that it will continue.”

Novick and Terasov met privately. Each was accompanied by an aide to take notes. Novick said they had agreed to a follow-up meeting in the near future. He would not say when or where it would take place.

The United States, meanwhile, is considering a more active role in the Middle East peace process, according to reports from Jerusalem Wednesday.

Yossi Beilin, political director general of the Foreign Ministry, who is presently in the United States, said he is actively urging stronger American involvement.

Beilin briefed Israeli correspondents after meetings with Reagan administration officials. He seemed hopeful that the United States would send a special emissary to the region, or in any case, increase its diplomatic activity aimed at breaking the long diplomatic stalemate there.

The outgoing U.S. consul general in East Jerusalem, Morris Draper, expressed the same hopes at an interview Tuesday night. He told Israeli television that it would be a mistake to assume that the administration would freeze any initiative, because this is an election year.

Draper said renewed American activism did not mean pressure on the parties, but rather a more energetic effort by Washington to play the “honest broker” role which it did successfully in negotiations between Israel and Egypt after the 1973 Yom Kippur War and later when the two countries were negotiating their peace treaty.

(Jerusalem correspondent David Landau contributed to this story.)

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