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Soviets Delay Emigration Law Again, but Bush Says That ‘may Not Be Bad’

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The Bush administration did not seem to be ruffled by the Soviet legislature’s decision this week to postpone action on a promised emigration reform law until September.

White House press secretary Marlin Fitzwater said President Bush told congressional leaders Tuesday the delay “may not be bad,” because it would give Moscow “a little time to work on emigration issues” and to resolve the Lithuanian crisis before the new U.S.-Soviet trade agreement is presented to Congress for ratification.

When Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev signed the trade pact last Friday, the U.S. president stressed he would not send the agreement to Congress before the Supreme Soviet adopted promised legislation codifying the Kremlin’s more liberal emigration policies of the last few years.

Bush also said adoption of the Soviet law is a condition for receiving most-favored-nation trade benefits barred under the 1975 Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the U.S. Trade Act.

Fitzwater reiterated Thursday that passage of the new law is the “one condition” that must be met before Bush sends the trade agreement to Congress.

But he said the president would be reluctant to send the pact to Congress as long as the Kremlin continues its economic sanctions against Lithuania. The Senate has said it will not ratify the agreement as long as Lithuania is being pressured to abandon its drive for independence.

Fitzwater revealed Tuesday that Bush agreed to the trade agreement only a half-hour before last Friday’s ceremony at the White House at which several bilateral agreements were signed.

SOVIET JEWRY GROUP DISMAYED

The Supreme Soviet had been expected to approve the emigration law before the summit, but just before the Washington meetings began, it was taken off the Soviet parliament’s calendar.

At the first Bush-Gorbachev summit in Malta last December, Bush said he would sign a trade agreement at their next meeting if the new emigration rules became law.

But once the summit began last week, Gorbachev and his aides continually expressed irritation when asked about the new law. At the same time, Gorbachev made several public statements in which he appeared to be almost pleading for the trade agreement.

Fitzwater said Tuesday that Bush went along because he wanted to help Gorbachev’s efforts to bring economic and political reform to the USSR.

The National Conference on Soviet Jewry expressed dismay at the Soviet legislature’s decision to delay action on the bill, which was drafted as long ago as last year.

“We hope this is a temporary move, and we urge them to reconsider,” said Mark Levin, the conference’s associate executive director.

The decision is “even more disappointing in light of President Bush’s decision to move forward on a trade agreement,” said Levin. “This latest development reinforces our view that in assessing Soviet emigration practice, performance is still the key factor.”

In a related development, the National Conference reported Tuesday that 10,202 Soviet Jews arrived in Israel during May, slightly under last month’s record high of 10,641.

That brings the total number of Soviet Jews who have arrived in Israel this year to 38,652. The comparable figure for the first five months of 1989 was 2,040, the conference’s Soviet Jewry Research Bureau said.

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