The Soviet Union on Friday recognized the proclamation of an independent Palestinian state in a careful gesture to its Arab allies that kept alive recent overtures to Israel.
"Faithful to the fundamental principle of freedom of choice, the Soviet Union recognizes the proclamation of the Palestinian state," First Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Bessmertnykh told a news briefing.
He said the Soviet Union believes a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict "will lead also to the practical completion of the historic process of creating this state."
The statement appeared to signal continued Soviet support for the Palestine Liberation Organization without alienating Israel by extending full diplomatic relations to the PLO.
Czechs Give Support
Czechoslovakia issued a similar statement later that also stopped short of recognizing the Palestinian state, while East Germany's state-run news agency said that communist nation had given recognition to the state.
Havana radio announced Cuban recognition with the statement: "Cuba, which always supports the just battle of the Palestinian people for their rights, expresses its support for the Palestinian state."
Israeli leaders did not publicly comment on Moscow's move except to say it seemed unclear. But senior officials privately expressed satisfaction that Moscow had stopped short of outright recognition.
The statement was subject to varying interpretations in Moscow.
Musa Mubarak, spokesman for the PLO office in Moscow, said the statement means the opening of full diplomatic ties. He said the PLO would be considered "like any other government" in Moscow.
The PLO has maintained an office in Moscow since 1976.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Savastyanov said the statement did not entail full diplomatic ties or exchange of diplomats.
"That requires additional work," he said, adding that he could not speculate on when such changes would occur.
Bessmertnykh, asked if the announcement amounted to recognition of the Palestinian state, said "in essence" it did.
A Western diplomat in Moscow who specializes in Middle East affairs said the Soviet Union was "under a lot of pressure from the Palestinians and their Arab allies to recognize" the new state.
"I think it's a way of slipping out of it," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In Washington, a State Department official said privately: "They really haven't gone as far as the others on recognition. I think the Soviets traditionally have been rather conservative. I think they are making a bow to the PLO without going as far as the others in recognizing the PLO. They want to appear they are supporting them without boxing themselves in."
The Palestine National Council, which acts as the PLO legislature, proclaimed statehood Tuesday at its conference in Algiers, Algeria.
The move came as the Soviet Union pursues a gradual thaw in relations with Israel. Moscow broke ties with Jerusalem in 1967 after Israel captured Arab lands in the Middle East war. It has supported the PLO and called for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied lands.
Under Mikhail S. Gorbachev's leadership, Moscow and Jerusalem have exchanged low-level delegations and the Soviet Union has loosened some restrictions on Jewish emigration.
Nevertheless, Moscow's lack of ties with Israel freezes the Soviets out of a more influential role in the Middle East like that of the United States.
Backed by Soviets
The Soviets support Arab demands for a U.N.-sponsored Middle East peace conference. Such a forum also would be a way for the Soviets to increase their influence in the region.
Bessmertnykh praised the Palestinians for accepting U.N. Resolution 242, which implicitly recognizes Israel.
"The Palestinian leadership has displayed a great deal of responsibility and realism," Bessmertnykh said. "They have provided for the creation of their state, but at the same time have stressed the importance of a Middle East settlement."
"A situation is shaping where all the sides directly involved in the conflict recognize that the path to peace . . . lies through talks on the basis of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and that a Jewish and Arab state have equal rights to exist in Palestine."
Note to Ambassador
East Germany's state-run ADN news agency said a Foreign Ministry official delivered a note Friday recognizing the Palestinian state to "PLO's accredited ambassador" in East Germany, Isam Kamel Salem.
The note was delivered by Heinz-Dieter Winter, deputy minister for foreign affairs, the agency said.
Other nations that have recognized the Palestinian state are: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cuba, Cyprus, Gambia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mauritania, Morocco, Nicaragua, North and South Yemen, Qatar, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Singapore, Sudan, Tunisia, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yugoslavia.