KISLOVODSK, U.S.S.R. -- The Soviet Union said yesterday that it would co-sponsor a Middle East peace conference with the United States if the superpowers could broker an accord that would bring Israel and its Arab neighbors to the table.
The Soviets thus signaled a readiness to resume full diplomatic relations with Israel. Israel has made its acceptance of a Soviet sponsoring role at a peace conference contingent on normalizing relations.
Soviet Foreign Minister Alexander A. Bessmertnykh, who met with Secretary of State James A. Baker III in this Caucasus Mountain resort, said the Soviet Union and the United States would try to resolve differences between Israel and Arab states over terms for holding a conference.
But Mr. Baker, perhaps reflecting his frustration at both Israeli and Arab resistance, said that a peace conference would not "be a successful undertaking -- in fact, it will not even take place -- unless the real parties to the conflict have a true desire for peace."
So far, there has been only one firm acceptance of Mr. Baker's proposal for such a conference. Only Egypt has agreed to attend, and it is the only Arab nation already at peace with Israel.
After meeting with Mr. Bessmertnykh, Mr. Baker flew to Jerusalem, where he will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir today.
Mr. Baker had asked Israel if it was willing to compromise on the terms of a conference to meet Arab demands. But Yossi Ben-Aharon, a top aide to Mr. Shamir, cautioned against any expectation of a major announcement by Israel.