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Soviet Foreign Ministry Says Visit to Israel is Still On

April 21, 1987

MOSCOW (AP) _ Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov denied today that a team of Soviet consular officials had canceled a planned visit to Israel.

Gerasimov was asked at his regular news briefing about a statement made in the United Arab Emirates by Vladimir Petrovsky, the Soviet deputy foreign minister. Petrovsky had said the consular visit was canceled ″after Israel tried to exploit the visit for blackmail and for applying pressure.″

Gerasimov said, ″The tickets have not yet been bought, the visas not yet applied for, but the visit has not been canceled.″

He gave no other details of the situation.

Petrovsky did not elaborate on the allegations of Israeli pressure. But he appeared to be referring to reports that Israel would consider a proposed international Middle East peace conference if the Soviet Union restored ties with the Jewish state.

Petrovsky, who is on a tour of the gulf nations, denied that the Kremlin plans to restore diplomatic relations with Israel.

″The reasons which motivated the rupture of these relations in 1967 are still in force with Israel refusing to quit the occupied Arab territories.″

The Soviet Union broke diplomatic relations with Israel after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

Gerasimov confirmed in an interview with an Israeli radio reporter earlier this month that the Soviet government planned to send a consular delegation to Israel in a few weeks to inventory property of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Israeli officials said a return visit would be made to the Soviet Union to survey Israeli property here and to monitor living conditions for Soviet Jews. Gerasimov denied during the radio interview that the Israelis were making such a trip.

″There is no question of reciprocity here,″ he said.

Israeli and Soviet representatives have had many private meetings over the years, but the first official talks between the two countries since ties were severed in 1967 took place last August in Helsinki, Finland.

The meeting of low-level delegations, at first hailed as indicating a dramatic change in Israel-Soviet relations, collapsed when Israel insisted on discussing the issue of Soviet Jewry.

The Russian Orthodox’s Church property in Israel is estimated to be worth at least $100 million. It is the subject of a conflict between the Moscow- controlled Russian Orthodox Church and the emigrant anti-Communist Free Russian Church.

In Tel Aviv, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said Israel had not received any word about a cancellation of the visit.

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