Israeli officials confirmed today that the Israeli and Soviet ambassadors to France met in Paris this week, but they said it was too early to judge the significance of reported Soviet proposals on the issues of Jewish emigration and the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Israeli radio reported this morning that during the meeting the Soviets suggested a willingness to allow an increase in Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union if Israel stops encouraging anti-Soviet propaganda in the United States and Europe and gives assurances that the Jews who are allowed to emigrate would settle in Israel and not the United States.
The report said the Soviets also expressed a willingness to discuss restoring diplomatic relations with Israel, which were broken off after the 1967 Middle East war, provided there is movement toward an acceptable settlement involving the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
Israeli television reported later that Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir will meet with the new Soviet foreign minister, Eduard Shevardnadze, at the U.N. General Assembly in September.
A Soviet government spokesman confirmed that the two ambassadors had met and said that any change in Soviet-Israeli relations depended on Israeli policies, Washington Post correspondent Celestine Bohlen reported from Moscow.
"It depends not on the Soviet Union but on Israeli authorities," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Lomeiko. "If Israel wants to reestablish diplomatic relations it just has to make or build its policy, which will correspond to the general international norms."
Asked at a news conference about the reports that the discussions linked diplomatic relations with Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union, the Foreign Ministry spokesman said emigration is strictly an internal question.
"It has nothing to do with emigration to Israel," said Lomeiko, who repeated the Soviet position that most Soviet Jews who wanted to leave have done so.
[A State Department spokesman in Washington said the United States "would welcome resumption of diplomatic relations" between Israel and the Soviet Union, Reuter reported.]
Asked about the radio report, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman would say only that Israeli and Soviet diplomats have met periodically in neutral capitals for some time.
Former Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko conferred with Shamir at the annual U.N. General Assembly meetings in 1981 and 1984.
Senior government officials here were cautious in discussing the Paris meeting, saying they could not go into the details. One official said it is part of a recent pattern, detected since the coming to power of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, to increase informal contacts with Israel.
"In the last few months, since Gorbachev, there have been more Soviet attempts to have a dialogue with us," the official said. "It seems that they are aware they made a mistake [in 1967] because in cutting themselves off from us they cut themselves off from the political process in the Middle East."
In May, the Soviet Union publicized two messages from Israel concerning the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe. It was the first time this had happened since 1967.
While Israeli officials said the radio report essentially was accurate, they suggested considerable skepticism that this latest Soviet move would lead to basic changes in the Israeli-Soviet relationship.
Speaking of the pattern of stepped-up contacts from the Soviets in recent months, one official said, "We've had that kind of experience in the past, and nothing came out of it. It's too early to tell about this."
Another official said Israel was encouraged by the fact that the Soviet ambassador to France, Yuli Vorontsov, is considered a well placed senior diplomat. But this official also said, "Right now it is more interesting than significant."
Abba Eban, the chairman of Israel's parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was also quoted by Israeli radio as expressing skepticism about the Soviet suggestions.
The issue of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union is a major source of friction in the relations of both Israel and the United States with the Soviet Union. In recent years, Moscow has severely restricted the number of Jews who were allowed to leave the country, leading to numerous protest demonstrations here and in the United States. More than 260,000 Jews have left the Soviet Union since 1970, about two-thirds of them ending up in the United States rather than Israel.
It appeared unlikely that a dramatic change in the emigration situation could come about without an overall improvement in Israeli-Soviet relations, perhaps to the point of a formal restoration of diplomatic ties. But the radio report of the Soviet condition to restore diplomatic relations -- progress toward a settlement on the Golan Heights that would be acceptable to Moscow's main ally in the Middle East, Syria -- made that possibility remote.