WASHINGTON (Nov. 28)
It is not yet clear whether President Bush will offer Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev a one-year waiver of Jackson-Vanik Amendment trade sanctions when the two meet this weekend for their shipboard summit off the coast of Malta.
That possibility has been raised by a number of observers. But the Bush administration has not revealed what proposals, if any, Bush plans to make for what has been billed as a get-acquainted session between the two superpower leaders.
In fact, to stress this informal atmosphere, Bush is only taking along a small number of advisers, rather than the huge group that accompanied President Ronald Reagan when he met with Gorbachev.
The talks are expected to center on the rapid changes in Eastern Europe, where Communist regimes are collapsing one after another, and on what efforts can be made to help their economies, as well as that of the Soviet Union.
It is in this context that Bush might offer as a symbolic gesture a waiver of Jackson-Vanik sanctions. The amendment links most-favored-nation trade benefits for the Soviet Union with substantial emigration reforms.
But chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, Shoshana Cardin, said Tuesday that she doubted Bush would make the gesture now, since the president has stated that he will only consider consulting with Congress on a waiver after the Soviets adopt legislation reforming its emigration laws and implement those changes.
NO NEW LAW BEFORE FEBRUARY
The Supreme Soviet did introduce a new law this month that would set a five-year limit on barring people deemed to possess state secrets from receiving exit visas. The law would also reform the “poor relative” provision, under which visas can now be denied because a parent or other relative claims a financial obligation.
But Cardin told a news conference here that the Supreme Soviet is not expected to act on the law before February and therefore has not fulfilled conditions for a Jackson-Vanik waiver.
Cardin announced that she and Martin Wenick, NCSJ’s executive director, will be in Malta on Saturday and Sunday “to ensure that human rights remains part of the agenda in these bilateral talks.”
“We acknowledge that there has been significant progress in the Soviet treatment of Jews,” said Cardin. She pointed to the “dramatic rise in emigration,” which may reach as high as 70,000 this year. She also said that the Soviets have “tolerated” a rebirth in Jewish religious and cultural life.
At the same time, Cardin stressed that there are still 107 long-term refusenik families denied visas for state secrecy reasons, and another 107 on the grounds they had poor relatives.
Karmella Raiz, who with her husband, Vladimir, has been denied an exit visa since 1973 on the basis of state secrets, also appeared at the news conference, with one of her two sons, 12-year-old Moshe. She is here on a tourist visa, while her husband and other son remain in the Soviet Union.
Cardin also said there has been a rise in anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union and faulted Gorbachev for not speaking out. She expressed hope that Bush would raise the issue with him.
AJCONGRESS FAVORS WAIVER NOW
As for the new Soviet legislation, Cardin said NCSJ’s concern is more with “deeds, not necessarily words.” The test for the NCSJ will be the release of the remaining long-term refuseniks, she said.
Cardin added that the NCSJ wants to know from the administration what kind of time period it will set for testing the implementation of the new law before waiving Jackson-Vanik.
The administration has sent conflicting signals on this. Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher said recently that a waiver could come within three months of the law’s adoption.
But Attorney General Dick Thornburgh told the Council of Jewish Federations in Cincinnati earlier this month that the new emigration rules should be “institutionalized and not just episodic, in the present uncertain flux of Soviet democratization.”
Meanwhile, the American Jewish Congress has sent Bush a letter, signed by its president, Robert Lifton, urging Bush to announce an immediate one-year waiver of Jackson-Vanik.
“Emigration has substantially increased nearly every month for the past three years, and in each of the last six months,” Lifton said. “And we believe that what happens on the ground is more important than what appears in a statute book.”
Lifton added that a waiver “will provide an incentive for the Soviet Union to continue to keep its borders open, and the possibility of the recision of this waiver will make our continued monitoring of their practices more effective.”