WASHINGTON (Aug. 3)
A Reagan Administration official told Congress Friday that the Rumanian government’s bulldozing of the 600-year-old Spanish Synagogue in Bucharest July 21 and other deplorable acts by that government are not reasons to deny Rumania extension of Most-Favored-Nation (MFN) trade status by the United States.
Rozanne Ridgeway, Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, said the Jackson-Vanik Amendment set emigration as the “standard” an East European country must meet to be granted MFN status. At present, only Rumania and Hungary have MFN status.
Ridgeway was testifying before the Senate Finance Committee’s subcommittee on International Trade which is considering two resolutions, one to permanently deny MFN status to Rumania, the other to deny it temporarily. The House is also considering two similar resolutions.
SENDING THE WRONG MESSAGE
Sen. John Danforth (R.-Mo.), the subcommittee chairman, suggested that for Congress to approve MFN for Rumania so soon after the synagogue was razed would be sending Bucharest the wrong message. He said it would be telling the Rumanians that they don’t have to “worry” about criticism from the U.S.
“I don’t think that they can possibly be getting that message,” Ridgeway replied. She said the Rumanians would realize that they would be taking “risks” if they continue with such policies.
Ridgeway said that both the U.S. and Israeli governments have told the Rumanian government that they expect the assurances to Rumanian Chief Rabbi Moses Rosen “to be honored” that two other synagogues and a Jewish museum would not be bulldozed as part of an urban renewal project in Bucharest as was the Spanish Synagogue. Danforth noted that Rosen had also been given assurances on the Spanish Synagogue, which was the last remaining Sephardic synagogue in Rumania.
In her testimony, Ridgeway noted that “this deplorable act followed specific and repeated expressions of concern by the Rumanian Jewish community, American Jewish groups, the governments of the United States, Israel and Spain” and members of Congress.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which took a leading role in trying to save the Spanish Synagogue, did not testify at Friday’s hearing.
Alfred Moses, a vice president of the American Jewish Committee, represented the Presidents Conference at a House subcommittee hearing on MFN in June and supported extending the trade benefits to Rumania for another year despite “shortcomings” on human rights and emigration. The Presidents Conference has taken this position in past years.
Ridgeway said that the Jackson-Vanik Amendment has worked in Rumania allowing 154,000 Rumanians to emigrate to Israel, the U.S. and West Germany since 1975. However, she noted that the U.S. is “concerned about the rate of Rumanian Jewish departure for Israel, which has dropped below last year’s level of 1,327.
Ridgeway said she had no wish to defend Rumania’s human rights practices. But she stressed that if this was to be used as the reason for denying MFN, it might endanger future emigration. “You have to be prepared to say to people standing in line for emigration, to say to each of them, ‘sorry, it’s all over,'” she said.
She stressed that by having a trade relationship with Rumania, both the Administration and Congress have “an opportunity to put something into the relationship on which we could fight on these other issues.”
INCREASING PRESSURE URGED
Also testifying before the subcommittee Friday was Jacob Birnbaum, national coordinator for the Center for Russian and East European Jewry. He urged using MFN to increase the pressure on Rumania to allow more Jews to leave. He said only 483 Rumanian Jews arrived in Israel during the first six months of 1986.
Birnbaum urged the establishment of a Congressional monitoring unit that would exert pressure on Rumania throughout the year. He said there must be an acceleration of the rate of Jewish emigration “to evacuate the bulk of Rumanian Jews in the next few years.”
Birnbaum said one reason for speeding up emigration is fear of what will happen if the “ailing, aging” President Nicolae Ceausescu leaves the scene. He said there is concern that Rumania might become “a demonstrably anti-Semitic society” or that ” the Soviets may greatly strengthen their hold on Bucharest.”