A group of up to six Israeli diplomats will leave for Moscow, possibly by next week, as the first Israelis to take up consular duties there in 21 years, officials and news reports said Wednesday.
The Soviets agreed to issue visas to the Israelis at a secret meeting in Zurich, Switzerland on Monday, said Foreign Ministry political adviser Nimrod Novick, who negotiated for the visas.Novick told Israeli army radio the diplomats' main job in Moscow will be to administer an embassy building for which Israel has been paying monthly rent even though it has been empty for 21 years.
Agreement for the visas came 10 months after Soviet consular officials began operating from the Finnish Embassy in Tel Aviv.
Novick said he hoped the consular visit to the Soviet Union could lead to renewal of full diplomatic ties with Moscow but described the current agreement as less than a breakthrough.
"What we are talking about is dipping ourselves in the water to check if it is hot or cold. It remains to be seen, when our delegates reach Moscow, how well they will be received," Novick said.
He added that the agreement followed two months of secret contacts with Vladimir Terrasov, the deputy head of the Soviet Foreign Ministry's Middle East department.
The Soviet Union broke diplomatic relations with Israel during the 1967 Middle East War, when the Jewish state captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Golan Heights from the Kremlin's Arab allies.
Kremlin leaders have improved ties with Israel in the last two years.