WASHINGTON -- A Soviet diplomat who specializes in Middle East affairs let Palestinians know bluntly yesterday that his country won't embrace the Arab position in peace talks and instead will cooperate with U.S.-led efforts for a compromise.
Embassy Counselor Viacheslav N. Matouzov stressed that he was giving his own assessment and not the official position of his government. But his remarks carried weight because of his past roles as a diplomat based in Beirut, as an official of the Communist Party Central Committee and as a Foreign Ministry official in the office responsible for Iraq and Jordan.
He spoke yesterday at a luncheon of the Washington-based Center for Policy Analysis on Palestine, a small think tank that studies the Arab-Israeli conflict and Palestinian issues.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III is to arrive in Moscow today for talks that will include discussions on the Middle East.
Mr. Matouzov said that the Soviets will continue to play a role in the Middle East but a far different one from the time when it backed the Arab cause to achieve a balance of forces against the United States.
Now, he said, the Soviets have "a different methodological approach" that he assumes will pursue the same course launched by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev and former Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze.
That course aims at working with the United States in trying to find common ground between Israelis and Arabs. Any idea that the Soviets would return to a confrontational role against the United States in the region is false, he said.
Soviet interests in the region include ties between the Middle East and the Soviet Union's Islamic population, he said. But they now also include the up to 1 million Jews who may eventually emigrate to Israel and who are legally able to retain Soviet citizenship for five years.
"The Soviet Union will have increasing influence on Israel," Mr. Matouzov said.
If Mr. Baker is able to forge a compromise between Israel and the Arabs, "why should the Soviet Union be against it?" he said.