WASHINGTON (Feb. 28)
Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) warned the Bush administration Wednesday that he would lead a fight in Congress against the waiver of Jackson-Vanik Amendment trade sanctions, unless the Soviet Union implements direct flights between Moscow and Israel.
Lantos said there is an urgent need for the flights, because Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev “may fall tomorrow, emigration might end tomorrow,” and the lives of Soviet Jews could be in real danger.
He said that until now, he and many other members of Congress have urged President Bush to waive Jackson-Vanik Amendment sanctions because of the increased emigration permitted under Gorbachev.
But the Soviet refusal to implement an agreement for direct flights signed last year by El Al Israel Airlines and the Soviet carrier Aeroflot “is a clear violation of the principles underlying Jackson-Vanik,” Lantos said.
His remarks were made during testimony by John Kelly, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian Affairs, to the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Europe and the Middle East.
When Kelly said that Secretary of State James Baker had urged the Kremlin to institute direct flights, Lantos indicated that Baker had not been forceful enough.
“I find it inconceivable that if this is indeed a high-priority issue, the president and the secretary didn’t have enough clout in the Kremlin to get this done,” Lantos said.
ARAB FEAR TERMED ‘RED HERRING’
He said he is circulating a letter among his House colleagues urging Gorbachev to allow direct flights. As of Wednesday, more than 110 members had signed the letter, which Lantos said he would present to the Soviet Embassy.
The lawmaker scoffed at explanations that Moscow will not move on direct flights because of pressure from the Arab countries.
“The Soviet Union may be in real trouble, but nobody in his right mind believes the Soviet Union’s troubles would increase perceptively if people would be able to fly from Moscow to Israel directly,” he said.
Lantos also said the “ultimate red herring” is the “absurd claim that the Arab world is terrified of Soviet Jewish immigration.”
Kelly maintained that “responsible” Arabs do not oppose Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel, only to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He said the fear among the Arabs is that large numbers of Soviet Jews going to the territories will force out the Palestinians living there.
Kelly said that only 1 to 1.5 percent of Soviet Jewish immigrants are now settling in the territories. But he stressed that the United States wants Israel to state that it will not increase the number of settlements and that it will no longer provide the financial benefits that may induce some Soviet Jews to settle there.
Lantos said that while he agrees that the settlements “are not helpful” to the peace process, a democratic society cannot exclude its own citizens from living where they wish. He said to do so would make “second-class citizens” of Soviet Jews.