U.S. Jewish Groups Welcome Bush’s Conditions for Jackson-vanik Waiver

American Jewish groups have welcomed President Bush’s announcement Friday of conditions the Soviet Union would have to meet before a waiver of U.S. trade sanctions against that country could be considered.

“Should the Soviet Union codify its emigration laws in accord with international standards and implement its new laws faithfully, I am prepared to work with Congress for a temporary waiver of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, opening the way to extending most-favored-nation trade status to the Soviet Union,” Bush said in a commencement address Friday afternoon at Texas A and M University.

Bush’s statement came a day after Secretary of State James Baker told a news conference in Moscow that he told Soviet leaders that it would be appropriate to consider waiving Jackson-Vanik as well as the Stevenson Amendment, which withholds U.S. government credits, should Soviet emigration reforms be “institutionalized.”

Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said she welcomed Bush’s “setting of criteria which the Soviet Union should meet prior to the recommendation of a waiver.”

Bush’s position is consistent with the conference’s “continuing reassessment of its position, initiated on Jan. 10,” she said.

The group’s preconditions for consideration of a waiver are a sustained high level of Soviet emigration; codification of Soviet emigration laws; progress on resolving the cases of long-term refuseniks; and reversal of emigration refusals to those who allegedly had access to state secrets.

GROUPS GOING TO SOVIET UNION

A National Conference delegation will visit the Soviet Union from May 23 to 28, to meet with refuseniks and Soviet officials, Cardin announced. The group’s executive committee and board of governors will consider advocating a waiver of Jackson-Vanik penalties at a meeting in Washington on June 12 and 13.

The group’s preconditions are in line with those announced by the Washington-based Union of Councils for Soviet Jews. Officials of that group said they were “relieved, joyful and full of gratitude” for Bush’s statement.

Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils, said Bush’s statement is in “strict compliance” with previously stated U.S. positions on a waiver and with her group’s own position.

Micah Naftalin, the organization’s national director, who was given an advance briefing of the president’s speech by a White House official Thursday night, praised Bush for not easing the conditions for a Jackson-Vanik waiver.

He credited Bush with “resisting the euphoria of glasnost” by not “crossing the critical Rubicon by granting a one-year waiver.”

Cohen called Bush’s statement a “first-round victory” against those “pressing for a premature waiver in the absence of Soviet legislative guarantees of institutional reform, leading to high and sustained levels of emigration.”

But she added that if the Soviets implement such legislation, “the UCSJ will be among the first to advocate a one-year waiver.”

HARD-LINE GROUP, TOO

Even the normally hard-line Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry “warmly welcomed” Bush’s remarks and announced it was sending a delegation to the Soviet Union on Monday to join refuseniks in drafting proposed emigration reforms to present to the Kremlin.

The grass-roots group said any legislation enacted by the Soviets must guarantee “unhindered exit to anyone who wishes.”

Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Bush had set “fair and firm conditions” for the granting of a waiver.

“Those conditions offer a test of Soviet intentions,” he said in a statement. “We trust that the USSR will meet that test and institutionalize by law the reforms it has begun to put into effect in its emigration practices.”

Stephen Silbiger, Washington representative of the American Jewish Congress, which in January announced its support of a one-year waiver, also welcomed Bush’s statement. But he called on the administration to “move expeditiously” to propose the waiver.

David Harris, Washington representative of the American Jewish Committee, called Bush’s statement “a welcome balance between continued American commitment to the principle of free and unobstructed emigration and the recognition of the need for a flexible response.”

Harris pointed out that repeal of Jackson-Vanik “is not an issue.” The law allows the president to recommend to Congress an 18-month waiver, followed by annual renewals.

A White House fact sheet on Jackson-Vanik, released Friday, said Bush could propose a one-year waiver by notifying Congress. It added that an interagency review is under way in the Bush administration to determine whether legislative approval of a waiver is required.

NEXT STORY