WASHINGTON (Oct. 3)
Three American Jewish leaders indicated today that they were greatly encouraged by a meeting they had late yesterday afternoon with Secretary of State William P. Rogers on the matter of the head tax imposed by Soviet authorities on Russian Jews wishing to emigrate.
The three leaders–Max Fisher of Detroit, Richard Maass, chairman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and Jacob Stein, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations–expressed “wholehearted support” for the Nixon administration’s diplomatic efforts on behalf of Soviet Jews but stressed the need for concurrent action, particularly by Congress, to bring an end to the exit tax.
This morning, White House press secretary Ron-ald L. Ziegler said that the matter of the visa tax “was discussed” at President Nixon’s meeting yesterday with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromy-ko. Ziegler did not elaborate. According to a White House source, the viss tax issue was raised during the President’s morning meeting with Gromyko, several hours before Rogers’ meeting with the three Jewish leaders. Nixon met with Gromyko again last night at Camp David.
SOVIET JEWRY IS A LONG-TERM ISSUE
Fisher told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency today that Rogers, like Nixon in his meeting last week in New York with 32 Jewish leaders, “made it quite clear that the Soviet exit tax issue is being raised at all levels–the Presidential level and the levels of the Secretary of State and (Presidential advisor) Dr. Henry Kissinger.” Recalling that Nixon told the Jewish leaders he would not make the issue of the head tax one of “public confrontation” and that he had expressed a deep feeling about the plight of Soviet Jewry, Fisher said that Nixon’s approach to this issue is on a long-range rather than a short-range approach.
“The Soviet Jewry issue will be with us for a long time to come,” Fisher said. “There are hundreds of thousands of Jews who want to get out of the Soviet Union and the President correctly feels that this must be handled within the context of the developing detente between the two nations.” Fisher asserted that he had “complete confidence” in Nixon’s ability to negotiate on the Soviet Jewry issue and that the meeting with Rogers only confirmed “the deep seated feeling” of the top administration officials toward the issue of Soviet Jews.
CONCURRENT CONGRESSIONAL ACTION URGED
In a joint statement issued after the meeting with Rogers, the Jewish leaders said: “The Jewish community is united in its determination to combat the Soviet ransom tax and the harsh discriminatory practices against Jews. We wholeheartedly support the President, the Secretary of State and Dr. Kissinger in their diplomatic efforts to resolve these difficult problems. At the same time, we call upon the American Jewish community and on all Americans to participate in a concurrent effort urging Congress to act in such a way that the benefits of (the US-Soviet) detente will be conditioned upon the removal of the immoral education tax recently imposed by the Soviet Union.
In a separate statement to the JTA. Maass said that he had stressed to Rogers the importance of the initiatives being taken in both houses of Congress to link the benefits of detente with removal of the head tax. Maass said he was referring to a bi-partisan measure in the Senate that would deny the Soviet Union most-favored nation treatment and certain trade credits contingent on rescinding the tax. A similar measure is coming up in the House. This, said Maass, “will only strengthen the hand of the President or the Secretary of State in dealing with the Soviet leaders and will exert pressure on the Soviet government.”
ROGERS INVITED JEWISH LEADERS TO MEET WITH HIM
Stein told the JTA that Rogers’ meeting with the three leaders was at the Secretary of State’s invitation. It lasted for more than an hour and was a follow-up to their meeting of Aug. 18 shortly after the Soviet Union announced the imposition of its exit visa tax on educated Jews. Stein said that Rogers did not mention that this matter had been raised at the meeting earlier in the day between Nixon, himself and Gromyko. But, Stein added, he gathered from the tone of their meeting with Rogers that “the matter is continuing to be communicated to the Soviets” and that “in every, or almost every contact it is a topic of discussion.” Ziegler said this morning “I am only prepared to indicate that the Soviets are aware of our position,” but declined to indicate Gromyko’s reaction.
Stain said that during the meeting, the three Jewish leaders stressed their anxiety over the deteriorating conditions of Jews who seek to emigrate from the Soviet Union and for those affected by the newly imposed education tax. The Jewish leaders attached significance that the meeting with Rogers was at his initiative and that it was attended by other high level officials.
Stein said that he, Fisher and Maass said they would continue “to watch developments very closely and will be prepared to recommend such programs of action as future events may dictate.”
REMARKS ON KOL ISRAEL CLARIFIED
In a related development, Stein clarified for the JTA remarks he made in an interview with Kol Israel radio last week on the relationship between the US-Soviet detente and the head tax. Stein was quoted by United Press International as having said that it would not be politically realistic for the US to halt its detente with the Soviet Union because of the head tax although “that may be a reaction sincerely felt by every Jew in America.”
Stein said his remark was quoted out of context. He told the JTA that what he had included was that “the detente between the US and the Soviet Union would continue to develop and within the context of that developing detente the American community should communicate its strong feelings to Congress on the issue of the ransom tax so that Congress, as it is called upon to act, would make the abolition of the tax a condition of a full agreement between the two nations.