Moscow Denies Shift on Jews or Israel Policy

From Times Wire Services

The Soviet Union on Thursday denied Western reports that it had agreed to increase Jewish emigration and had invited an Israeli delegation to visit Moscow.

The denial from Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov undermined a series of reports from Israel and U.S. Jewish organizations in recent days that implied an important shift in Soviet policies.

A long-discussed Soviet delegation of "modest consular officials" will visit Israel to check on Soviet property, Gerasimov told a news conference.

But he said the visit has nothing to do with a renewal of diplomatic relations between the countries, and he denied an Israeli report Wednesday that it would be followed by a reciprocal visit to Moscow by an Israeli delegation.

Raising Doubts

Gerasimov said attempts to show that the Soviet Union is moving toward resuming diplomatic relations with Israel, severed after the 1967 Middle East War, were designed to "raise doubts in the minds of Soviet friends in the Middle East."

Gerasimov also denied reports from American Jewish groups that the Soviets have agreed to sharply increase the number of Jewish emigrants, saying, "There will be no quotas."

Edgar M. Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, and Morris B. Abram, chairman of the U.S. National Conference on Soviet Jewry, held a number of meetings last week with medium-level Soviet officials, Gerasimov said.

"Nothing concrete came out of these," the Foreign Ministry spokesman said, emphasizing that Moscow would continue to observe its usual methods of granting visas.

Can't Guarantee Number

"We cannot guarantee an exact number of applications that can be presented and receive favorable outcomes," Gerasimov said in rejecting reports that 11,000 to 12,000 Soviet Jews would be allowed to leave.

He said the Jewish delegation had come to Moscow at its own request and that Bronfman, chairman of Seagram Co. Ltd., was in the Soviet Union "primarily on account of his affairs." The meetings, Gerasimov said, included trade officials.

A Western diplomat, who had expressed doubts about the reports of increased Jewish emigration, said Bronfman had reported major progress several times in the past without any results.

Although Jewish emigration figures rose sharply last month to 470--the highest total since August, 1981--Gerasimov said that applications were handled by "accepted procedures."

State Secrets an Obstacle

The main obstacle to emigration cited by authorities is knowledge of state secrets. Some people have been refused emigration on the basis of work done in the 1960s.

The only report on which Gerasimov provided some support was that Soviet Jews might fly to Israel without using the current route through Vienna. Israel has made that request to prevent emigrants from going to other countries, although "officially it has not been discussed," Gerasimov said.

"When they arrive in Vienna, they forget about this (Israeli destination), and they scatter around like spiders to the United States and throughout Europe," he said.

Israeli authorities reacted immediately, saying they believed Moscow had agreed to a reciprocal visit.

In Jerusalem, an Israeli spokesman noted that his government is still paying rent on its embassy building in Moscow, which has been vacant since 1967. Israel also considers itself responsible for Jews in the Soviet Union.

Legitimate Interests

Gerasimov said the Kremlin has legitimate interests in sending officials to Israel because of Soviet church and state property and Soviet citizens there.

The Soviet Union broke off diplomatic relations during the 1967 Middle East War and has maintained that they can be restored only if Israel withdraws from Arab lands seized during that conflict.

Western and Arab sources have reported a series of meetings between Israeli and Soviet officials during the last three months but said that Moscow is mainly concerned with getting Israeli support for its participation in an international peace conference on the Middle East.

While Gerasimov was splashing cold water on talk of a thaw, Israeli President Chaim Herzog, in Switzerland on a state visit, said Thursday in Bern that he sees indications of improving relations but that progress would have to be based on facts, not forecasts.

"There are indicators in the wind which point to a better future for relations between Israel and the Soviet Union. But obviously our relations in the future would have to be based on facts, not prognostications," he told a news conference.

Herzog said the latest figures show a slight rise in Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union.

"We hope and pray this is true. We hope the gates of the Soviet Union will be opened to all Jews to join their brothers and sisters in Israel," he said.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World