Nixon Badly Misled on Soviet ‘suspension’ of Ransom Tax

President Nixon was reported on Capitol Hill today as having been badly misled by his staff on Soviet government intentions regarding emigration and his presentation to key Senators yesterday was described by one of them as a “fiasco.”

Since the President’s presentation that the Soviet had “suspended” its exit tax on emigrants, none of the 76 Senators have given any indication of a change of heart in their co-sponsorship of legislation forbidding U.S. trade benefits and credits to the Soviet Union until it removes its emigration restrictions. Some, in fact, indicated they are even more firmly committed to the legislation. (Leaders of the American Jewish community met today with Nixon on the Soviet Jewry issue. See separate story.)

In the House, where 276 Representatives have co-sponsored identical legislation — the Mills-Vanik amendment — there was no sign of defections either. “We haven’t had a single phone call from a Senator or an aide on the Jackson Amendment,” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was informed by a principal assistant to Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D.Wash.) who presented the legislation in the Senate.

HOW IT HAPPENED

The story unfolded today from three Senatorial sources on the White House meeting yesterday shaped up as follows: Nixon believed the Soviet government had capitulated on the emigration issue by agreeing to “suspend” its education tax announced last Aug. and published after the Soviet-American agreement last Oct. Regarding the “suspension” as significant he summoned six Senators — Senate Minority Leader Hugh Scott (R.Pa.); Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (D.Mont.);. Jacob K. Javits (R.N.Y.); George D. Aiken (R.Vt.); Abraham-Ribicoff (D. Conn.) and Jackson. All but Jackson and Ribicoff are Senate Foreign Relations Committee members.

The President directed Dr. Henry Kissinger, his principal foreign policy advisor, to read two memoranda regarding Soviet “suspension” of the tax. Neither of the memoranda was signed. They were believed to be from Soviet authorities, but whether from the Soviet Embassy or the Kremlin and to whom they were first given at the White House and by whom are elements still uncertain.

After hearing the President’s presentation, Ribicoff appeared to shock Nixon by reportedly telling him bluntly: “Mr. President, there’s nothing new in this. We have known about the suspensions for several weeks. But that in no way diminishes the need for passage of the Jackson. Amendment.” Published reports that the “suspension” information to the President came from Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev were declared to JTA as without substance.

As Minority Leader, Scott dutifully told the of media of the President’s presentation but an aide told JTA today that the Senator has not altered his own support of the Jackson Amendment. “The Jackson Amendment is still a necessary force to keep the pressure on the Soviet Union.” the Scott aide said “All we have are words. We haven’t seen any documents. The two documents read at the meeting don’t seem to be operative. There may be a verbal agreement between the Soviet staff and the U.S., staff perhaps, but that is not a binding agreement.”

AMENDMENT STILL FAVORED

Although no commitments were asked at the White House meeting, JTA was informed, Mansfield and Aiken who have consistently opposed aid to Soviet refugees were said to have informed the President that they backed him fully in his opposition to the Jackson Amendment. Ribicoff refused to make a public statement but it was clear he is more strongly in favor of the Amendment now than before.

Javits said “I don’t believe the Congress can or should drop the Jackson Amendment. I believe we are dealing with profound questions of policy and that obviously so long as the (diploma tax) law remains on the books of the Soviet Union the enforcement of the law can be turned on and off. That does not necessarily mean that anyone is trying to humble the Soviet Union by demanding or giving an ultimatum about repeal of the law. For myself I have not changed my position on the Jackson Amendment as of now.”

Besides issuing a statement holding firmly to his previous position, Jackson said that the Soviet “suspension” was “old hat and not the heart of the emigration issue.” The tax, he emphasized, is just one means to deny emigration to Soviet citizens, Jews and non-Jews. The issue is, he said, whether a Soviet citizen who wants to emigrate can do so.

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