WASHINGTON (Jan. 11)
Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet prisoner of conscience, warned Wednesday that the Reagan administration’s decision to attend a human rights conference in Moscow in 1991 could result in a major public relations coup for the Soviet Union.
“With all those nice changes that are taking place, the Soviet Union is still very far from those norms of civilized societies,” Sharansky told reporters at the White House, after a meeting with President Reagan.
He said that during the next two years, the West must press the Soviet Union for increased improvements in human rights and to ensure that the Moscow conference is open to human rights groups.
At the brief Oval Office meeting, attended by President-elect George Bush and Secretary of State George Shultz, Reagan presented Sharansky with identical congressional gold medals for himself and his wife, Avital.
Sharansky said his wife remained home in Jerusalem to take care of their two daughters, 1-month-old Chana and 2-year-old Rachel. He said he was returning to Israel Thursday, because he always spends Shabbat with his wife.
He was accompanied to the White House by his mother, Ida Milgrom, and his brother, Leonid, now an engineer in Des Moines, Iowa.
The medals, which contain the words “Let My People Go,” in Hebrew and English, and feature a picture of the Western Wall, were authorized by Congress on May 13, 1986, three months after Sharansky was allowed to leave the USSR in an East-West prisoner exchange. He had served nearly nine years in Soviet prisons and labor camps.
Sharansky said that Reagan told him that his struggle for human rights and Avital Sharansky’s effort to free him were “important as a symbol of the struggle of the people of the world for human rights.”
On other issues, Sharansky said he did not think now was the appropriate time for the United States to consider a waiver of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment, which denies the Soviet Union most-favored-nation trade privileges until it makes substantial progress on increasing Jewish emigration.
But he added, “I think we can start talking about changing the Stevenson amendment as the first step.” That amendment requires increased emigration in order for the Soviets to get trade credits.