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Relations between China and the Soviet Union, strained by nearly three decades of ill will, took a major step toward normalization with the announcement that China's foreign minister will visit Moscow this year.

Qian Qichen's visit is expected to advance talks on ending Vietnam's occupation of Cambodia, the most serious issue dividing the two Communist powers, and set the stage for the first Sino-Soviet summit since 1959.The planned trip was announced Wednesday at United Nations headquarters in New York following a meeting between Qian and his Soviet counterpart, Eduard A. Shevardnadze.

"Of course it can be said that the exchange of visits between the Chinese and Soviet foreign ministers constitutes a step forward toward the meeting between the leaders of the two countries," Foreign Ministry spokesman Jin Guihua told a news conference in Beijing today. "It is our hope that the two sides will work toward this direction."

The official World Economic Herald in Shanghai, meanwhile, quoted unidentified diplomats in Beijing as saying a Chinese-Soviet summit could be held this year or early next year.

In New York, Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady Gerasimov said Qian "agreed to come to Moscow at the end of this year, where the negotiations will be continued on the Kampuchean (Cambodian) question and bilateral questions."

He said Qian will meet Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev and that Shevardnadze would visit Beijing at a later date.

Chinese radio and the official press Thursday mentioned Qian's proposed visit to Moscow in reports on his meeting with Shevardnadze but did not give prominent play to the announcement.

China's leading daily, the People's Daily, noted plans for the trip in the second paragraph of a story carried on page six.

China and the Soviet Union split over ideological and strategic differences around 1960, with hostilities increasing until the two sides fought a brief border war in 1969.

Political normalization talks, accompanied by increased trade and other unofficial contacts, began in 1982, but China has refused to fully restore normal relations until "three obstacles" are removed.

Two of those obstacles have been lowered with the Soviet Union beginning its withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the reduction of tensions on the Sino-Soviet border, but Soviet support for Vietnam's military occupation of Cambodia remains a key point of dispute.