WASHINGTON (May. 31)
Leaders in the Soviet Jewry movement were pleased, but not surprised, Tuesday that President Reagan made human rights the center of his visit to Moscow for summit meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
At the same time, no one was ready to predict that this would result in dramatic increases in the number of Soviet Jews allowed to emigrate from the USSR.
“We live in hope,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
Jerry Goodman, executive director of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, stressed that the Moscow summit is part of a continuing process that includes the four previous summits. “You don’t get any immediate dramatic results,” he said.
Goodman said that especially since the Washington summit last December, Gorbachev has publicly recognized that human rights, including Jewish emigration, is a legitimate part of the U.S.-Soviet relationship.
“It can be dealt with even between summits on a regular basis and an acceptable basis to both sides,” Goodman said. He emphasized that the discussions between summits is where the real progress is made.
Both Goodman and Hoenlein stressed that Reagan and Secretary of State George Shultz assured Jewish leaders that human rights, including the issue of Soviet Jewry, would have a priority on the summit agenda and would be stressed by the United States as it was at the three previous Reagan-Gorbachev summits.
‘LIVED UP’ TO COMMITMENT
“They have lived up to that commitment,” Hoenlein said. He added that “we are pleased by the degree of prominence” that human rights has been given in Moscow.
Goodman noted that since the treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces “was signed and a matter of formality, the next legitimate issue was human rights. I am not surprised by the amount of exposure the administration gave to this issue.”
Morey Schapira, former president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, also noted that not only did Reagan and Shultz give the Jewish community a commitment to stress the issue, but they “really care” about it.
Schapira said that in addition, the president knows the American people also support the effort for human rights.
He noted that the INF agreement, which was ratified by the Senate Friday, contains an amendment approved by a voice vote urging the president “to stress the inherent link between respect for human rights and the achievement of lasting peace.”
The INF treaty was brought to Moscow by Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) and Minority Leader Robert Dole (R-Kan.).
Schapira said that Reagan “wants to resolve this issue to remove this as a sticking point” in U.S.-Soviet relations. The president “would like to see a longtime solution,” he said.
He added that he does not expect immediate improvements, except for the possible release of one or two prominent long-term refuseniks, as has been the case in the past.
‘HAVE TO BE REALISTIC’
But Schapira warned that the Jewish community has been hurt in the past by forecasts of things getting better. “We have to be realistic and judge him (Gorbachev) not by his word but by results.”
He said there must be a forceful message delivered to the Soviets that “the ball is now in their court.”
Soviet officials were displeased by the president’s focus on human rights, although some tried to downplay it. Some officials suggested that a guest should not criticize his host, while others stressed that Gorbachev has been trying to make changes, which Reagan frequently acknowledged.
Gorbachev, during a toast at a Kremlin state dinner Monday night, said that the Soviet Union wants to improve relations with the United States.
“But this should be done without interfering in domestic affairs, without sermonizing or imposing one’s views, without turning family or personal problems into a pretext for confrontation between states,” he said.
While strolling with Reagan through Red Square Tuesday, Gorbachev told the crowd that Reagan has sometimes criticized the Soviet Union.
“We are so critical of our own country that even the president’s criticisms are weak,” Gorbachev said. “We know what our problems are.”
In Tuesday’s discussion, Gorbachev outlined his economic reforms to Reagan and the two leaders discussed increased trade between the United States and the Soviet Union. They were scheduled to discuss regional issues, including the Middle East on Wednesday.