WASHINGTON (May. 25)
President Reagan left Wednesday for Helsinki en route to Moscow, for his fourth summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, with a pledge to continue pressing for improvements in the human rights policies of the Soviet Union.
Reagan said that since his first meeting with Gorbachev in 1985, he has sought to achieve a working relationship in order to make progress on human rights, as well as arms control, regional issues and bilateral exchanges.
“We have many differences, deep differences, moral differences, but we’re still fellow human beings; we can still work together to keep the peace,” the president said to some 1,500 persons who gathered on the White House lawn to bid him farewell.
Reagan will be in Helsinki until he goes to Moscow on Sunday for the five-day summit. American Jewish organizations, such as the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews and the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, as well as groups from other countries are in the Finnish capital to press the cause of Soviet Jewry while Reagan is there.
Rozanne Ridgway, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, said at briefing on the summit Tuesday that while Reagan is not expected to attend any events sponsored by these groups, she would do so and so may Secretary of State George Shultz.
She did not say exactly which events they would be, but she noted that the NCSJ has various activities scheduled and that the Israeli Embassy in Helsinki plans a reception for human rights groups.
The NCSJ plans to conduct hearings Thursday on Soviet compliance with the human rights provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Final Act. It also will participate in the Friday night services at the Helsinki synagogue on May 27 and will hold a silent vigil in the center of the city the next day.
The UCSJ, together with the SSSJ and the London-based Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry, will conduct prayer vigils, hold a mock trial of “glasnost” (Gorbachev’s policy of openness) and march on the Soviet Embassy.
SOVIET IMPROVEMENTS NOTED
In his departure statement, Reagan said that some “concrete steps” have been taken by the Soviet Union to improve the human rights situation.
“Levels of emigration have risen, some political and religious prisoners have been released, and a number of divided families have been reunited,” Reagan said.
He also noted a Soviet “pledge that some restrictions on the right to worship have been removed.”
But the president stressed, “I will press to see that the positive trends I mentioned continue and the reforms are made permanent.
“We certainly welcome the recent signs of Soviet progress toward greater freedom of religion, greater freedom of speech, greater freedom of movement,” he said.
“There have been indications that this progress may be written into Soviet law and regulations so that it can be a more permanent part of Soviet life. We will be doing all we can to encourage just that.”
At her briefing, Ridgway said that there was no formal agenda yet for the Reagan-Gorbachev talks.
But she said that she was sure that the first-item would be human rights, as it was at Geneva, Reykjavik and Washington, the site of the three previous summits. She also said the issue would come up throughout the talks.
HUMAN RIGHTS FIRST ON AGENDA
“When the president and the general secretary meet, the first subject the president raises is human rights,” Ridgway said.
“And I can just tell you that I have every reason to believe that’s going to be the same this time. And indeed, the last time it was also the first subject that the general secretary spoke about.”
In his remarks Wednesday, the president mentioned only briefly the hope that the Soviets would support his administration’s Middle East peace initiative.
It calls for an international conference that would set the stage for negotiations between Israel and its Arab neighbors. The Soviets have proposed that the conference be involved in negotiating a settlement.
“We’ll urge the Soviets to help move the Middle East peace process closer to a just and lasting solution,” Reagan said.