The Soviet Union said Thursday that it will ask the United Nations to appoint a special envoy for the Middle East to work on arranging an international peace conference that would include direct Israeli-Palestinian talks.
Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said after a 10-day tour of the region that such a U.N. mediator, shuttling among Middle East capitals and consulting with members of the U.N. Security Council, could hasten preparations for a conference.
"We are firmly convinced that the task of preparing an international conference is coming to the fore now," Shevardnadze said in an interview with the Communist Party newspaper Pravda.
To prepare for a U.N.-sponsored conference, he said, "We plan to ask (U.N. Secretary General) Javier Perez de Cuellar to appoint an authoritative person acceptable to everyone as his special envoy for the Middle East."
At the same time, he said, members of the Security Council should increase their consultations on terms of a settlement of the 40-year-old conflict.
Shevardnadze suggested a special council meeting at the foreign ministers' level to lay the basis for a conference with the council's five permanent members "assuming the functions of a preparatory body of the conference."
Although the Soviet Union has made an international conference--which would bring Israel and the Palestinians together--the basis of its new diplomatic initiative in the region, Israel remains opposed to such a conference and the United States has lately been noncommittal.
During his Middle East tour, from which he returned on Monday, Shevardnadze met in Cairo with Moshe Arens, the Israeli foreign minister, and then with Yasser Arafat, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. He also visited Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran.
Senior Soviet officials said that Shevardnadze had found significant elements in the positions of both Israel and the Arabs, including the PLO, that were worth pursuing. This, they said, is why Moscow would now like Perez de Cuellar to appoint a special envoy with a mandate to prepare for a conference and to mediate in what would be preliminary negotiations.
"The idea of an international Middle East peace conference is increasingly gaining support," Shevardnadze told Pravda, "and this is why the Soviet Union believes that the idea can and must be implemented through the efforts of the international community."
Moscow would like to see a time limit of six to nine months placed on the preparatory stages of the conference, according to Soviet officials. They said this new push should not be interpreted as a Soviet initiative but what one Mideast specialist here called "a common effort to ensure that a very promising opportunity" is not lost.
"The situation in the Middle East has changed markedly of late," Shevardnadze told Pravda.