The United States and Israel are close to agreement on locating a Voice of America transmitter in Israel that could beam broadcasts into the Soviet Union with sufficient power to overcome Soviet jamming, U.S. and diplomatic sources said yesterday.
Spokesmen for the U.S. and Israeli governments refused to comment on reports in the Israeli press in recent days about the proposed transmitter. But the sources said intensive discussions have been under way for several weeks, and they added that Israel is likely to agree to the U.S. request to locate the transmitter on its territory.
But, the sources cautioned, the public attention that has now been focused on the plan could set back the timetable for an agreement by several weeks. They said that because the idea is likely to cause controversy, particularly in Israel, both sides probably will want to let the publicity die down before proceeding with negotiations.
According to the sources, the Reagan administration, which wants to increase its ability to get information about the United States to the Soviet people, turned to Israel after two of America's NATO allies in southern Europe, Greece and Turkey, rejected U.S. efforts to get one of them to take the transmitter.
The sources said that Turkey, which has a common border with the Soviet Union, did not want to become involved because it fears that Soviet anger would subject it to reprisals and endanger the Turkish policy of maintaining reasonably good relations with Moscow despite its ties to the Atlantic Alliance.
In Greece, Socialist Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou's interest in closer ties with the Soviets has contributed to increasing strains in U.S.-Greek relations. The administration has been having difficulty concluding negotiations for a new agreement on continued operation there of two VOA relay stations that beam programs to the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and the sources said that, given the current political climate in Greece, there is no chance that the United States could broadcast to the Soviet Union from there.
As a result, the sources said, the U.S. effort has focused on Israel. Some reports said the U.S. request for Israel to accept the transmitter was made about three months ago in the form of a letter signed by President Reagan.
The sources said initial Israeli hesitation about the American request was prompted by concern that it could lead the Soviets to retaliate by tightening even further the severe restraints it has put on Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union.
It also would mean a new setback for the official Israeli policy of getting Moscow to resume diplomatic relations, which were broken off after the 1967 Middle East war.
However, the sources continued, these factors are likely to be outweighed by Israel's sense of obligation for the massive military and economic aid that it receives from the United States. In addition, the United States can argue that Israeli aid for U.S. broadcasting activities fits appropriately into the strategic cooperation agreement established by the two countries last year, since the agreement's aims include countering Soviet activities in the Middle East.
The sources also said that, as an additional inducement, the United States is understood to have held out the possibility that Radio Israel, whose broadcasts aimed at Soviet Jews have encountered jamming difficulties, could use the anti-jamming capabilities that the proposed transmitter would possess.
The Voice of America broadcasts worldwide; it is a part of the United States Information Agency.