UNITED NATIONS (Dec. 7)
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev told the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday that a restructuring of the Soviet Union’s “state secrecy” laws “removes from the agenda the problem of the so-called refuseniks.”
In a speech largely devoted to his policy of “perestroika” or restructuring the Soviet system, Gorbachev said that the Supreme Soviet intends to draft new laws that rule out any form of state persecution on political or religious grounds.
“The problem of exit from and entry to our country, including the question of leaving for family reunification, is being dealt with in a humane spirit,” he said.
He stated that no persons remain imprisoned for political or religious beliefs.
Gorbachev did not propose any new ideas for the Middle East peace process, and reserved his references to the region to a short statement of regret over the U.S. decision to bar Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasir Arafat from entering the country for a speech before the General Assembly.
Gorbachev’s motorcade arrived at the United Nations shortly before 10:00 a.m., skirting clumps of flag-waving protesters spread out along one side of Manhattan’s First Avenue.
They included some 2,000 demonstrators from the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews, whose appeals acknowledged the fruits of “perestroika” but demanded even more on behalf of free emigration. Another group of Jewish protesters had themselves arrested.
Gorbachev’s remarks on emigration and state secrets came during a section of his hour-long speech dedicated to U.N. Human Rights Day, to be marked Dec. 10.
CHANGES IN SECRECY LAW
The Soviet leader confirmed last week’s announcement that the state secrecy rule, which denied emigration to Soviet citizens deemed privy to supposedly classified information, would henceforth be applied with “strictly warranted time limitations.”
“Every person seeking employment at certain agencies or enterprises will be informed of this rule,” he said. “In case of disputes, there is a right of appeal under the law. This removes from the agenda the problem of the so-called refuseniks.”
The Soviet leader also voiced “deep regret” over the U.S. State Department’s refusal to grant Arafat permission to enter the United States.
In New York, Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said she welcomed Gorbachev’s words on emigration and state secrets, adding, “We look to the Soviet Union to make good on the general secretary’s words.”
The National Conference called for immediate granting of exit visas to all Soviet Jews who wish to leave, an unequivocal lifting of the state secrets law and free access to Jewish culture.
The rally sponsored by the Coalition to Free Soviet Jews took place opposite the United Nations at the Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, in an area also referred to on street signs as Anatoly Shcharansky Plaza and Raoul Wallenberg Walk.
The demonstrators were drawn mainly from Jewish day schools in the New York area. As expected, speakers expressed satisfaction with gains made in recent months in emigration and Soviet Jewish life, but demanded more progress from the Soviets.
“We applaud the initial steps of the Soviet Union to ease the plight of Soviet Jews, but they are very initial steps,” said Rabbi Haskel Look-stein, vice chairman of the coalition and religious leader of Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan.
58 PROTESTERS ARRESTED
Before the coalition rally, 58 members of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry were arrested for disorderly conduct when they sat down on First Avenue. The students were taken to New York’s 17th Police Precinct and released several hours later, pending a Feb. 3 court appearance.
Gorbachev proceeded after his speech to Governors Island for a luncheon with President Reagan and President-elect George Bush. According to Secretary of State George Shultz, who reported on the meeting at a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Reagan welcomed human rights developments in the Soviet Union.
The leaders also discussed the Middle East, Shultz said, including a “cooperative effort” for peace in the region. No further details were immediately available.