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Soviets restore full relations with Israel

By JONATHAN FERZIGER

JERUSALEM -- The Soviet Union agreed Friday to restore full diplomatic relations with Israel, severed for nearly a quarter-century, and said it hoped the move would push forward the Middle East peace process.

'For mutual cooperation and understanding, for the interests of the two countries, we have decided to renew diplomatic ties between the two countries with this joint agreement and to exchange diplomatic representatives at the embassy level,' Foreign Minister David Levy said after meeting with his Soviet counterpart, Boris Pankin, for the second time in two days.

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The announcement came during a day of frenzied diplomatic activity in which Pankin and Secretary of State James Baker criss-crossed Jerusalem trying to bridge the gap between Israel and the Palestinians over a proposed Middle East peace conference, which the United States and the Soviet Union hope to convene by the end of October.NEWLN: more

Israel has said Moscow must restore full ties if it wants to be a co- sponsor of the peace talks, which were called for jointly by President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

Pankin, in a brief statement, said the Soviet Union would upgrade its relations with Israel immediately and hoped that it could play a role in bringing peace to the region.

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The Soviet Union, which recognized Israel three days after it declared independence in 1948, broke off ties in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War, but relations between the nations have warmed in recent years.

More than 350,000 Soviet Jews have left for Israel since travel restrictions were eased in 1989 and Israel expects the number to reach 1 million Soviet immigrants within five years.

Pankin also met for nearly two hours Friday with Baker at Jerusalem's King David Hotel to coordinate strategy in seeking to bring Israel together with the Palestinians and neighboring Arab states at a Middle East peace conference. Details of the talks were not disclosed.

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