Two days before President Bush was scheduled to host Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at their first full-scale summit meeting, the White House was still up in the air about whether a trade agreement would be signed.
White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said Tuesday that neither news reports that the agreement will be signed at the summit nor those saying it will not are correct.
"It is very much an issue that will be resolved between the two presidents," Fitzwater said. Although U.S. and Soviet negotiators have completed work on the agreement," I would not prejudge the outcome," he said.
But a senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the upcoming summit Tuesday, seemed to indicate that a trade agreement would not be signed.
She gave two reasons. First, she did not believe the Soviet legislature would take action by the time the summit began Thursday on a bill codifying emigration reforms.
Bush has made Soviet implementation of an emigration reform law a condition for waiving sanctions contained in the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the U.S. Trade Act. The amendment bars the Soviet Union from receiving most-favored-nation trade benefits from the United States until it improves its emigration policies.
A trade agreement would be meaningless for the Soviets without the trade benefits, which would allow the USSR to export goods to the United States at the lowest tariffs.
EMIGRATION LAW UP IN THE AIR
But Bush is insisting on the adoption of a law by the Supreme Soviet that would institutionalize more liberal emigration procedures so that Jews and others would no longer be subject to whims of emigration officials.
The senior officials said the proposed law has been on and off the schedule of the Supreme Soviet for the last six months.
When Secretary of State James Baker was in Moscow earlier this month, he was told the law would be debated May 31, the first day of the summit.
But Baker later learned that it had been removed from the Supreme Soviet’s schedule.
"We have made clear to the Soviets at every opportunity that this emigration law is a precondition," the senior administration official said Tuesday.
But she said there was no reason to believe the law would be ready by the summit.
The official also noted that before Bush would waive Jackson-Vanik sanctions, the administration would want to consult with Congress and with various groups. Presumably, those include the Soviet Jewry advocacy groups.
The official also stressed that all of this was "shadowed" by the Soviet economic sanctions against Lithuania.
Bush seemed to indicate this at a news conference last week when he said, "I think that there’s a political climate in this country that would make it extraordinarily difficult to grant" trade benefits to the Soviets.
The senior official stressed Tuesday that while signing agreements are important, this would not be the main focus of the Bush-Gorbachev summit. "It is a summit designed to do the hard work of trying to transform East-West relations," she said.
LETTERS, APPEALS AND PROTESTS
Meanwhile, 51 senators and 139 members of the House of Representatives sent letters to Bush urging him to discuss with Gorbachev the issue of anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union. Baker indicated last week that Bush would bring up U.S. concerns about growing anti-Semitism, as well as the cases of long-term refuseniks.
The joint letters, which were delivered to the White House, urged that Bush "call on President Gorbachev to publicly condemn" the increasing incidents of anti-Semitism.
The Va’ad, the umbrella group of Jewish institutions in the Soviet Union, has urged Bush to persuade Gorbachev to change "his policy of indifference toward anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi trends in his own country."
The appeal was made in a letter Michael Chlenov, co-president of the Va’ad, sent to Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress.
At least two Jewish groups are considering holding protests in Washington on Friday during the summit. The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry may protest across the street from the offices of Aeroflot to push for direct flights between the Soviet Union and Israel.
The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews may join Lithuanian groups at a larger human rights rally.
The SSSJ staged a demonstration Monday across from the Soviet Embassy, and later in front of the White House. The 180 participants from New York and New Jersey then protested in front of the Iraqi Embassy over the Arab League meeting in Baghdad, which was called to protest Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.