Shamir: No Political Importance to Prisoner Exchange
JERUSALEM (AP) _ Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir said today the release of Jewish activist Anatoly Shcharansky from a Soviet labor camp would be a propaganda ploy with no political significance.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Shamir denied reports that the United States had informed him Shcharansky will be included in an East-West prisoner exchange, which reportedly would take place on a bridge linking East Germany with West Berlin.
″Until this moment we have nothing. I don’t know anything about it. I would like to believe it’s true,″ Shamir said during an interview in his office.
The White House and West German officials have refused to comment on the reports, which began with a story in Monday’s edition of the West German newspaper Bild.
Other Israeli officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expected Shcharansky to be freed in the exchange, anticipated to take place late this week or early next week.
These officials said they understood 12 imprisoned Soviet bloc spies will be swapped for Shcharansky and possibly one or two other people, whom they did not identify.
Shamir said if Shcharansky were released, ″We would be very happy.″ He said Shcharansky’s wife Avital, who lives in Israel, has become the symbol of the international movement for Jewish emigration rights. ″I would like to see this woman happy.″
Shamir, who served 10 years as a top officer of the Mossad intelligence agency, said such prisoner swaps ″are a normal phenomenon in the international intelligence scene. I wouldn’t attach political importance to this move.″
At the same time he said he hoped ″it will be a beginning of the liberation of all other prisoners in Soviet Russia of this category.″
Shcharansky, 38, was the spokesman for the Soviet Jewish dissident movement until his arrest in March 1977. He was convicted in 1978 of spying for the CIA and sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Shamir said Shcharansky’s release would not signal a shift in the Soviet policy barring mass emigration of Jews.
″The release of Shcharansky and maybe some others will be a move of P.R. (public relations) to make Western public opinion more forthcoming toward Russia,″ he said.
He said if the Soviets wanted to improve their image they would have to adopt sweeping policy changes, including re-establishment of diplomatic relations severed in 1967 during the Arab-Israeli War. ″They have to behave like a decent country,″ he said.
Shamir said Israel had heard ″rumors″ of a change in Soviet policy following the Communist Party congress later this month, but ″we have no sign that this will happen.″
Shamir insisted the Soviets cannot play a diplomatic role in the Middle East without first re-establishing ties with Israel.
He said he once told Soviet President Andre Gromyko, who was then the foreign minister, ″We are an important factor in the area, and if you want to be involved here you hAve to have normal relations with us, to talk to us, to listen to our positions.″