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Idea of Linking Trade Benefits to Direct Flights Losing Support

A proposal to continue denying the Soviet Union major trade benefits until it allows Jews to leave the country on direct flights to Israel is quickly losing support here.

Opposition to a linkage between the direct flights issue and a waiver of Jackson-Vanik Amendment sanctions was voiced Wednesday by a State Department official and representatives of two leading Soviet Jewry groups.

“We do not consider it appropriate to add new conditions to the waiving of Jackson-Vanik,” Alexander Vershbow, director of the State Department’s Office of Soviet Union Affairs, told the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

The commission is a congressional body that monitors implementation of the Helsinki human rights accords, which, among other things, call on all countries to allow their citizens to emigrate freely. It is chaired by Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

The 1975 Jackson-Vanik Amendment denies U.S. trade benefits to the Soviet Union, known as “most-favored-nation status,” until the president is satisfied that the level of emigration from the Soviet Union is adequate.

Vershbow said that President Bush is maintaining the position he took during his summit meeting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in Malta last fall.

At that time, Bush said he would consider asking Congress for a one-year waiver of Jack- son-Vanik if the Soviets adopted and implemented a promised new law institutionalizing emigration reforms.

Implementation would include allowing some 100 longtime refuseniks still in the Soviet Union to emigrate, Vershbow said.

But to add direct flights as a condition would be a “mistake,” Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, told the commission.

“It would give the appearance that we keep moving the goal posts each time there is a change,” she said.

Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said his organization also opposes “changing the goal posts.”

“However, in principle, we should note that if the Soviets are now creating a class of Jewish ‘waitniks’ to go with refuseniks, this is not good faith implementation” of Moscow’s commitments to increase emigration, Naftalin added.

The testimony before the CSCE came as moves in Congress to link direct flights and a Jackson-Vanik waiver seemed to slow down.

Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had announced a sense-of-the-Senate resolution supporting the linkage. But rather than introducing the resolution, he “filed” it.

TAKING A CAUTIOUS APPROACH

This allowed it to be printed in the Congressional Record as something the senator is “considering or contemplating doing,” said Dan McKenna, his press secretary.

In the House, Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) also appeared to be taking a more cautious approach than he did last week, when he warned, during a House subcommittee hearing, that he would lead a congressional fight against a waiver if direct flights are not instituted.

Robert King, Lantos’ press secretary, said Thursday that the threat would only be a last resort. He said Lantos had about 165 signatures on a letter he plans to deliver personally to Soviet Ambassador Yuri Dubinin, saying that Congress is “dismayed and appalled” that the Soviets have not allowed the flights.

Specter and eight other senators met with Dubinin on Wednesday evening and urged the Soviets allow direct flights or some other acceptable means of accelerating the departure of emigrating Jews.

“We told the ambassador that we did not come to pressure or threaten, but to urge continued progress in human rights,” said Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), who led the delegation.

At the CSCE hearing Wednesday, Cardin and Naftalin stressed that the numbers of Soviet Jews leaving the USSR had to be increased because Jews there were in fear of growing anti-Semitism.

Naftalin said that while departures have averaged 5,000 a month, they should be at least 12,000 a month to meet the current backlog.

During his visit to Moscow earlier this year, Secretary of State James Baker urged the Soviets to implement an agreement for direct flights signed by El Al and Aeroflot in December.

State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said Thursday that the United State has not received any sign of a change in the Soviet position since the Baker visit, during which the Soviet response was described as “not encouraging.”

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