Menu JTA Search

Soviet Official Says Rally Won’t Increase Jewish Emigration

SIGN UP FOR THE JTA DAILY BRIEFING

The massive demonstration for Soviet Jewry in Washington last Sunday, just prior to the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting, will have no effect on Soviet emigration policy, a senior Soviet official told Israel Radio’s Washington correspondent Thursday.

According to Vitaly Jurkin, deputy director of the Soviet Institute of the USA and Canada the “Freedom Sunday” rally “will have no influence at all on the situation.” The rally drew more than 200,000 people of all faiths to demand free emigration for Soviet Jews.

He said “the Soviet Union is moving ahead along many areas of human rights, including the issue which I personally consider to be a very difficult issue — that of emigration.”

He defended new regulations that Soviet Jewry activists say make it more difficult to apply for an exit visa. “The new regulations, as you know, were adopted and the Soviet Union started implementing them at the beginning of this year. The number of emigrants from the Soviet Union increased,” Jurkin said.

But he disputed the number of Jews said to be seeking permission to emigrate. “Anyone on the Soviet side who deals with this problem considers as fantastic the figures which are sometimes mentioned — 400,000, 40,000 — I don’t know how many thousand.

“So in this sense I don’t think the demonstration influenced the Soviet position,” Jurkin said. “But at the same time, in this dimension which has nothing to do with the demonstrations – in the dimension of the increasing democratization in the Soviet Union, of glasnost (openness), an attempt to settle really many of the problems which do exist — I think this process will continue.”

RELATIONS WITH ISRAEL

Jurkin maintained that relations between Israel and the Soviet Union have improved in recent years, and he suggested that the issue should be discussed “calmly and practically.”

Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, meanwhile, said he was pessimistic about chances that the summit meeting between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has changed the Soviet position toward the Middle East.

Speaking to reporters Thursday during a visit to Kiryat Shemona, near the Lebanese border, Peres said, “I don’t think it (the summit) will have a direct effect on Israel.”

When asked if Moscow might stop supplying Syria with SAM-2 anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons, he said, “I wish it would — but I’m not sure.” He added that the Soviets recently supplied Damascus with more guns and artillery.

The foreign minister appeared disappointed that Reagan and Gorbachev apparently did not discuss an international conference on the Middle East, which Peres strongly advocates as the only feasible opening for direct peace negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors.

He noted that the issue has not come up so far and that five months would elapse before the next summit meeting in Moscow. But Peres added that he would not allow the time to be wasted.

Asked if he would take any initiatives for an international conference in the interim, Peres replied, “Yes, yes, I think it is our problem. I would like to see peace with our neighbors.

“Maybe for the Soviet Union, it is not as burning an issue as it is for us. But I intend to continue and act tirelessly for peace in the future,” the foreign minister said. He likened an international conference to the “open fence” between Israel and Lebanon, “an opening to peace.”

Peres was more hopeful with respect to the treaty banning intermediate range nuclear weapons, which Reagan and Gorbachev signed at the White House Tuesday. “We shall, all of us, breathe better air and have more hope as citizens of this globe,” he said.

NEXT STORY