A high-level Israeli official says ``it's too early to tell'' whether the Soviet Union would like to normalize relations with Israel in the wake of the historic, though abbreviated, talks held between the two nations Monday in Helsinki. But Israel's ambassador to the United States, Meir Rosenne, sees the 90-minute meeting, the first between the two countries in 19 years, as a possible first step toward diplomatic reconciliation. (Reaction to the meeting in Israel, Page 7.)
``Whoever says that this was a flop or that there will be no follow-up is mistaken,'' says Ambassador Rosenne.
In comments to reporters over breakfast, Rosenne stopped short of saying that allowing all Soviet Jews to emigrate would be an absolute precondition to normalizing relations between the two countries, which were broken following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
But Rosenne insists some progress on the emigration issue will be essential if reconciliation is to move forward.
``What is totally unacceptable is to see the release of one [or two] individuals, creating the impression that the problem is solved while you have 400,000 Jews that have applied'' to emigrate from the Soviet Union, says Rosenne.
Rosenne also cites the issues of Jews imprisoned in the Soviet Union and what he calls the ``anti-Semitic campaign'' in the Soviet press as other priorities for the Israeli government.
In other comments yesteday, Rosenne said he did not think the ``window has closed'' on prospects for peace in the Middle East. But the Israeli ambassador expressed doubts that any breakthrough was imminent. The US should increase its activity in the region ``only if there's a real hope for success,'' Rosenne cautioned. ``An attempt that fails is worse than no attempt at all.''
The ambassador appeared to be responding to a statement this week that the Reagan administration, buoyed by positive developments in the region lately, is considering a more active role for the US in the Middle East.
An administration official revealed that a review of US policy in the region is being undertaken to evaluate the effect of several recent events, including the Soviet-Israeli talks and the talks last month between Moroccan president Hassan and Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres.
The purpose of the review, the administration says, will be to determine whether a new diplomatic opening now exists for the US to play a broker's role, as the Carter administration did successfully in the negotiations that consummated in the signing of the Camp David peace accords in 1979.
But Rosenne warns that, absent the willingness of any Arab country to negotiate with Israel without preconditions, the time may not be ripe for new US diplomatic initiatives.
``Camp David was signed because you had two countries [Egypt and Israel] that were ready and had the political will and determination to reach peace,'' he says. ``But the US cannot impose peace if a party doesn't want it.''
Many of Israel's critics say that, unless Israel agrees to drop its own precondition that the Palestine Liberation Organization not be included in any direct peace talks, there will be little chance of Middle East peace talks. Israel has refused to negotiate with the PLO until it renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel's right to exist.
In other comments, Rosenne yesterday dismissed the most recent in a series of allegations of Israeli espionage operations in the US.
Jonathan Jay Pollard, a former US Navy analyst, in June pleaded guilty to passing secret defense documents to an Israeli intelligence unit.
Now the Justice Department is investigating charges that three Israeli air force officers attempted to steal plans for an advanced airborne spy reconnaissance system from an Illinois-based defense contractor, Recon Optical Inc.
Spokesmen for Recon say Israel planned to steal the technology, which is being developed on a contract paid for by the Defense Department as part of the US military aid program to Israel, so it could be duplicated for manufacture in Israel.
But yesterday Rosenne insisted that the incident was a simple contract dispute with no espionage implications.