The president of the World Jewish Congress said today that he has been invited to visit the Soviet Union in March for talks on Jewish affairs.
Edgar Bronfman, president of the congress, told reporters that the invitation had been conveyed Friday night by the first secretary of the Soviet Embassy in Washington in a call to the congress' executive secretary, Israel Singer, who was invited to come to Moscow to arrange details of the trip.
Singer accepted the invitation, Bronfman said, but no date has been set for the meetings. The invitation, which Bronfman said he saw as "positive," seemed to mark a shift by the Soviets, who have clamped down on Jewish emigration in recent years.
The Associated Press quoted a Soviet Embassy duty officer as saying he had no information on such an invitation.
It would be the first visit to the Soviet Union by a president of the congress. Bronfman said the main items on his agenda were the emigration of Soviet Jews, the freedom of Jews to teach and practice their religion and the release of Jewish political prisoners.
Bronfman also said he would convey a message from Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres offering the Soviets a role in Middle East peace negotiations if they agree to resume relations with Israel broken after the 1967 Middle East war, exchange ambassadors and "demonstrate evenhandedness." Israel has taken such a stance in previous statements.
Bronfman also said Austrian Chancellor Fred Sinowatz had apologized to the Jewish body for the reception his country gave freed Nazi war criminal Walter Reder last Thursday.
Austrian Defense Minister Friedhelm Frischenschlager met Reder at Graz airport after his repatriation from Italy, where the ex-SS officer had served almost 40 years in prison for the deaths of 1,830 villagers during World War II.
The reception precipitated a storm of criticism from the Austrian Jewish community and from the congress, holding its first postwar meeting in the Austrian capital. It also came on the eve of commemorations of the 40th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Reder, 69, is in ill health and was released prior to the end of his term, in July, at the request of the Austrian government and others on humanitarian grounds. Bronfman told reporters he accepted Sinowatz's apology, emphasizing the desire of the congress not to interfere in Austrian internal affairs.
Regarding the Soviets, Bronfman also said that Ambassador to the United States Anatoliy Dobrynin and his family have accepted his invitation to join him on his Virginia farm next month, reinforcing his belief in Soviet good will in the talks he said are now planned for Moscow in March.
Bronfman, who is also the head of Joseph Seagram and Sons distillery, said he regarded Soviet interest in holding such talks as a way of demonstrating good will on Jewish and human rights issues.
Other delegates to the three-day conference said they interpreted the initiative as a way of gaining leverage in Soviet-American disarmament talks scheduled to begin in Geneva on March 12.