Israel criticized a Soviet demand that the Jewish state agree to an international peace conference on the Middle East before full diplomatic relations between the two nations can be restored.

Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze announced the condition Thursday following talks with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir at United Nations headquarters in New York.The Soviet Union has expressed a desire to be a key player in the Middle East peace process, but Israel insists that diplomatic recognition precede any direct Soviet involvement.

Shamir, speaking later to the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, said "resumption of diplomatic relations between sovereign states cannot be used as a condition for political concessions."

"It is not a prize, it is a means of communications and a vehicle for better understanding between nations," Shamir said.

"Sovereign nations cannot and do not allow their fate to be determined by an international conclave, especially one whose composition guarantees dangerous results. No other nation has been asked to submit to this kind of tribunal, and no nation has been asked to guarantee territorial concessions in advance of negotiations," Shamir said.

Shamir, a hardliner in the Israeli coalition government, has voiced objections to a proposed international peace conference on the Middle East and favors direct talks between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

Shevardnadze, who met with Shamir for more than an hour Thursday, also told a news conference that Moscow will receive an Israeli consular group "within a short time."

Moscow severed diplomatic relations with Israel following the 1967 Six-Day War but has increased contacts in the past year.

"We set forth principles for a Middle East settlement," Shevardnadze said. "I spoke in favor of convening a conference on the Middle East under U.N. auspices because we sincerely believe that without such a conference, it is difficult to hope there will be a settlement of Middle East problems."

He said he told Shamir that once the "machinery is in motion to begin the conference, it will make it possible to settle the problems of our relations with Israel."

Asked whether diplomatic ties with Israel are conditioned to Israeli acceptance of the conference, Shevardnadze said, "Yes, these are interconnected elements."