Mideast peace opening

August 02, 1991|By The Los Angeles Times

THE GOOD news out of the superpower summit for President Bush is that U.S. relations with the Soviet Union are now better than they have been since perhaps the Russian Revolution. The bad news is that relations will prove much more complicated than ever.

The Soviet Union is no longer a monolith. That will mean a lot of things. But for George Bush, whose style of diplomacy is to pick up the telephone in an effort to reach out and touch someone, one consequence is that to deal with the Soviet Union in the future, one long-distance call won't do.

The fragmentation: That has been evident for some time now -- what with the rise of Boris Yeltsin in the Russian Republic, the restless Baltic states looking to pull out and the continuing troubles in the other republics. But the empire's fragmentation was dramatized anew Tuesday when Boris N. Yeltsin refused to play Mikhail S. Gorbachev's game of all-in-the-happy-family -- and all in the Soviet president's shadow -- by sharing the lunchtime podium. It was an arguably picayune moment in the history of one-upmanship perhaps, but it made the point that Gorbachev is no Brezhnev, and that today's Soviet Union is increasingly not a bucolic union and even less a Soviet agglutination.

Underscoring that point was Bush's private session with Yeltsin in the Russian's Kremlin office -- and the U.S. president's plan to jet out of Moscow Thursday morning for Kiev, where he was due to address the Ukrainian Parliament. The fact that Bush agreed to include this chore in his crowded itinerary is further evidence of how much the basic structure of the relationship is changing.

The hesitation: The American relationship with Israel may be changing a bit, too. Bush could not have been happy with the thought that Syria -- a Soviet ally for many years -- has accepted the call of Secretary of State James A. Baker III for a Middle East peace conference but longtime U.S. ally Israel has not. The result was that it was the Israeli government's turn to get a jolt. Wednesday the superpowers in effect told the Shamir government that in October a Middle East peace conference would convene and that it had better be there.

That doesn't mean Israel will show up -- but it should. It need not negotiate out of fear. Indeed, the basis of the American-Israeli relationship is far deeper and more enduring than any one president or transitory turn in the political tide. But Israel must never, ever fear to negotiate. That would suggest to the outside world a very deep insecurity -- even self-doubts about the equity of its political case. Such doubts and insecurities are unwarranted. So is any further delay in accepting the invitation.

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