Waive Jackson-vanik Now, Ajcongress Urges Baker

In a major departure from the stance adopted by National Conference on Soviet Jewry and its constituent groups across the country, the American Jewish Congress has urged an immediate one-year waiver of Jackson-Vanik Amendment sanctions against the Soviet Union.

In a letter sent Tuesday to Secretary of State James Baker, the group disputes claims from an unnamed “national Jewish organization” that the Jewish community supports a waiver of Jackson-Vanik trade restrictions only if President Bush receives “additional Soviet assurances” of improvements in Soviet emigration policy.

Instead, AJCongress and “several other major American Jewish organizations are in support of a one-year waiver of Jackson-Vanik now,” writes Maurice Tempelsman, chairman of the AJCongress Commission on International Affairs.

“There is no question that during the last few months, Soviet deeds have fully merited a waiver,” he writes, noting that under the amendment, such a move is “a reversible act.”

The 1975 Jackson-Vanik Amendment denies the Soviet Union most-favored-nation trade benefits until it makes substantial improvements in its emigration policy.

TOOL FOR PRODDING SOVIETS

The amendment has been seen by Jewish organizations as a main tool in prodding the Soviets to make emigration reforms.

On June 13, the National Conference’s Board of Governors, representing 47 national Jewish groups and close to 300 Jewish community relations councils and federations, adopted a statement saying it was “prepared to support a waiver” of Jackson-Vanik sanctions, if President Bush received “appropriate assurances” from the Soviet Union in four key areas.

NCSJ Chairwoman Shoshana Cardin outlined the group’s position in a meeting with White House officials, and followed it up with a letter to Baker.

A spokesman for AJCongress confirmed that the group’s letter to Baker on Tuesday was an explicit departure from a “communication” from NCSJ to Baker.

Asked about the AJCongress move, Martin Wenick, executive director of the NCSJ, said “Jewish organizations have traditionally worked on the thesis of consensus. We recognize the right of any organization to its own views, and (the American Jewish) Congress has chosen to do this at all times.”

But “the administration knows where the mainstream of the American Jewish community is, and it has acknowledged that in a positive sense,” he said.

AJCongress, however, feels that recent dramatic gains in the emigration of Soviet Jews, Armenians and ethnic Germans warrant an immediate waiver. In the last two years, the number of Soviet Jews being allowed out of the Soviet Union rose from fewer than 100 a month in 1986 to more than 4,000 a month since March.

AJCongress also indicates in its letter that a “full 99.6 percent of all emigration applicants are allowed to leave,” and that the number of long-term refuseniks has decreased from 11,000 in 1986 to under 2,000.

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