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Mood Growing on the Hill to Link Jackson-vanik to Direct Flights

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Sentiment is building on Capitol Hill to deny a waiver of Jackson-Vanik Amendment trade sanctions against the Soviet Union unless it institutes direct flights between Moscow and Israel.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) has introduced a sense-of-the-Senate resolution stating that Congress should not approve a waiver of the trade sanctions until the direct flights begin.

The resolution also states that the Bush administration should not complete trade negotiations with the Soviet Union until it implements an agreement on the direct flights that was signed in December by the Soviet carrier Aeroflot and El Al Israel Airlines.

Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), meanwhile, is circulating a letter to his colleagues in the House of Representatives that says members of Congress are “appalled and dismayed” that the Soviets have not implemented the accord signed by Aeroflot and El Al.

Soviet rejection of recent appeals on the matter by President Bush and Secretary of State James Baker represent a “serious blow to our relationship,” the letter states.

As of Friday, 150 House members had signed the letter, which Lantos plans to deliver personally to Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States.

Lantos warned last week that if direct flights are not begun, he will lead a congressional fight against a Jackson-Vanik waiver.

Under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, the Soviet Union has been denied most-favored-nation trade privileges from the United States since 1975. The amendment says the sanctions can be waived for a trial period if the Soviet Union allows a sustained high level of emigration.

Many members of Congress, backed by Soviet Jewry groups, feel the Soviets have now met that test. But a waiver must win congressional approval and could not take effect, in any case, until the United States and the Soviet Union conclude talks on a trade agreement, expected to be signed by President Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at their June summit.

One Soviet Jewry activist termed Specter’s resolution “very harsh” and said it and the Lantos letter indicate that congressional concern about direct flights has escalated since all 100 senators signed a letter to Baker on the subject last month.

Similarly strong sentiments reportedly were expressed last week at a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on U.S.-Soviet trade by Reps. Hank Brown (D-Colo.) and Sander Levin (D-Mich.).

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