VALLETTA, Malta (Dec. 3)
George Bush ended his first superpower summit conference as president without giving Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev a firm commitment to ease trade sanctions against the USSR, though it is clearly the U.S. administration’s desire to do so.
The two countries agreed to set up informal working groups to draft a bilateral trade agreement. But Bush told his Soviet counterpart that the United States is prepared to make trade concessions only if promised emigration reforms are implemented.
That stance pleased leaders of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, who came here to monitor the summit meeting. They were also pleased that the subject of human rights figured high on the agenda of the two leaders’ talks.
Other areas of particular concern to Jews that were discussed by the superpower leaders included German reunification and the Middle East.
Bush and Gorbachev discussed these and other subjects at a news conference Sunday aboard the Soviet cruise ship Maxim Gorky, as did members of their respective entourages, in interviews with the broadcast media.
Brent Scowcroft, the president’s national security adviser, said Bush and Gorbachev “talked about a trade agreement as a precondition for most-favored-nation status.”
That has been precluded since the Jackson-Vanik Amendment linking trade with Soviet emigration policies took effect in 1974, aborting a trade agreement that had just been hammered out between the two powers.
Bush is said to have told the Soviet leader that he would agree to a waiver of Jackson-Vanik sanctions, but not before the proposed new legislation on emigration becomes law.
PROGRESS ‘ALMOST TOO DRAMATIC’
“The president indicated an ‘if,’” Martin Wenick, executive director of the National Conference, stressed in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “My sense is what the president said is that ‘it’s up to you.’ “
Bush is expected to ask for a Jackson-Vanik waiver by his next summit meeting with Gorbachev in June, assuming emigration reform legislation is implemented on schedule.
A draft emigration reform bill won overwhelming support in its first reading before the Supreme Soviet on Nov. 14, but is unlikely to be enacted before February.
Baker said he “will work with the Congress to see if we can’t repeal some of this legislation that prevents us from having more normal economic relations.”
The secretary of state was almost euphoric on the subject of human rights accomplishments.
“We have made so much progress in human rights over the course of the past 11 months with the Soviet Union that it is almost too dramatic to even try to describe,” he said on the CBS-TV program “Face the Nation.”
Baker said that Bush and Gorbachev focused on human rights during their discussions Sunday.
He said the Americans presented the Soviets with a list of names of divided families and refuseniks. “That’s something we have always done at our meetings with the Soviets, and we will continue to do,” Baker said.
Bush apparently presented Gorbachev with the names of 20 emigration cases, not necessarily all Jewish. The NCSJ had provided the White House and State Department with a list of over 200 Jewish families denied permission to emigrate.
MORE THAN 11,000 LEFT LAST MONTH
Meanwhile, Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union is proceeding at a record pace. According to preliminary figures reported by NCSJ, 11,168 Jews left the Soviet Union in November, the highest monthly total on record.
Of that number, at least 1,826, or 16.4 percent, went to Israel. That number is expected to increase. Final figures will be available on Dec. 10.
The November figure, an 18 percent increase over the previous month, brings emigration for the year so far to 62,504, the highest of any year since NCSJ’s Soviet Jewry Research Bureau began recording emigration statistics. Prior to 1989, the record emigration year was 1979, when 51,320 Jews left the Soviet Union.
A sustained high level of emigration is one of four concerns NCSJ would like to see satisfied before the United States moves to normalize trade relations with the Soviets.
The others are progress in resolving the cases of long-term refuseniks, strict limits on the use of “state secrets” as a grounds for denying exit visas and a resolution of the “poor relatives” problem, by which family members may prevent others from emigrating by refusing to sign a waiver of financial obligation.
If Bush receives assurances from the Soviets on those four conditions, NCSJ is prepared to support a waiver of Jackson-Vanik sanctions.
But another activist group of summit-watchers, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, expressed disappointment over what it called the administration’s “abandonment” of its stance on Jackson-Vanik.
The Student Struggle’s national chairman, Rabbi Avraham Weiss, insisted that before Moscow receives any trade concessions from the United States, it must “codify its emigration laws in accord with international standards and implement its new laws faithfully.”
He urged a trial period of a year before Jackson-Vanik is waived.
NO HURRY ON REUNIFICATION
Weiss and two other activists from the Student Struggle staged a small protest outside the office of the Maltese prime minister, as Gorbachev and his wife, Raisa, arrived.
Adopting a less confrontational stance than shown at previous summits, they held signs reading “Peace and Freedom for Soviet Jewry” and “Glasnost — Yes! Human Rights — Yes!”
The director of the Supreme Soviet’s press center, Arkadi Maslennikov, said here Thursday that the pending emigration reform legislation would provide for “a considerable widening of possibilities” for emigration and “remove all unjustified limitations on entry and exit, according to international law.”
The Soviet official acknowledged, however, that there would be certain restrictions on free emigration for those with knowledge of military and other secrets. But those restrictions would be for “very specific time limits,” he said. The draft legislation is said to specify a five-year maximum.
Soviet and American officials here also discussed the idea of German reunification, which emerged as a real possibility suddenly last month following sweeping reforms in East Germany, including the symbolic razing of the Berlin Wall.
Many Jews, particularly Holocaust survivors, have expressed apprehension at the thought of a united Germany that could once again dominate Europe economically and militarily.
Baker reiterated his earlier statement that “reunification should proceed gradually. It might be premature to jump from free passage and the right of free travel by East Germans, all the way over to reunification,” he said.
Gorbachev remarked that the two Germanys were decided by history, and history should decide their destiny.
On the Middle East, Bush said he was pleased with the “constructive role” Moscow was playing in support of a peaceful settlement of the civil war in Lebanon and on the “West Bank question.”
But he made clear that while the United States welcomes Soviet cooperation in the region, it is not interested in collaboration — meaning Moscow’s direct participation in the peace process.
(JTA Washington correspondent David Friedman contributed to this report.)