WASHINGTON (Dec. 12)
Jewish organizations applauded President Bush’s decision Wednesday to waive certain restrictions of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment until next July to allow the Soviet Union to receive up to $1 billion in U.S. government-guaranteed credits to buy wheat and other U.S. food products.
Flanked by Secretary of State James Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, Bush announced the decision in the White House Rose Garden after an hour-long meeting with Shevardnadze.
The president also announced he would go to Moscow for a summit meeting with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev from Feb. 11 to 13.
“I am prepared to respond to a Soviet request for credit for purchase of agricultural commodities through a waiver of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment,” Bush said.
“While I have taken this step, I still look forward to passage of the Soviet emigration law codifying general excellent practices of the past year,” he said. “This will permit us to make further progress toward normalization of our U.S.-Soviet economic relations.”
While Bush waived the Jackson-Vanik restriction on extending credits to the Soviet Union, he did not lift a provision of the amendment that bars the USSR from receiving most-favored-nation trade benefits. That means Soviet goods selling in the United States will continue to carry much higher tariffs than those sold by countries with MFN status.
Nor did the president say he will send Congress the trade agreement he signed with Gorbachev here last spring. Bush pledged at the time that he would not grant MFN status or ask the Senate to ratify the trade pact until the Soviets adopted the promised emigration law.
JEWISH GROUPS APPLAUD MOVE
Shevardnadze said his Foreign Ministry has pressed for the law’s adoption, and he predicted the Supreme Soviet would pass it soon.
The foreign minister, who earlier this week asked publicly for U.S. aid to prevent a food shortage this winter, said the Soviet Union appreciates the president’s action.
Jewish groups that once stood solidly against a waiver of the Jackson-Vanik sanctions were quick Wednesday to show support for the president’s move.
“We support President Bush’s decision to waive the Jackson-Vanik Amendment,” said Seymour Reich, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations.
“We believe that efforts to date warrant this step and underscore our hopes for the future,” he said. “We hope the Soviet Union will continue the implementation of human rights and free emigration.”
Shoshana Cardin, chairwoman of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, said Bush’s decision acknowledges the Soviet Union’s “move toward free emigration.”
The National Conference last week urged Bush to approve a one-year waiver of the Jack-son-Vanik Amendment restrictions, including granting the Soviets MFN status, in response to increased Soviet Jewish immigration to Israel, which is expected to reach 180,000 by the end of the year.
The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, which had supported the credits for food, but not a waiver of MFN status, also praised Bush “for understanding that American pressure remains the most effective encouragement for institutional reform and human rights guarantees in the Soviet Union.”
PRESSURE FROM FARMERS
Pamela Cohen, the union’s president, said Bush “has balanced political demands and demands for improving U.S.-Soviet relationship without compromising human rights.”
Praise also came from B’nai B’rith International and the Anti-Defamation league of B’nai B’rith.
Bush said technical assistance will be provided to the Soviets to see that the food it receives is distributed. He said he will urge the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to offer assistance.
“For the longer term, only steps that the Soviet Union itself takes can assure the economic health” of the Soviet Union, he said, adding that he supports efforts for democratization and economic reform.
Observers see Bush’s move as another effort to help Gorbachev stay in power.
But Bush also acted under pressure from American farmers, especially wheat growers, whose prices are at an all-time low. The farmers fear losing the Soviets as a customer to other countries that are providing the Soviets with credit.
The July 1 date for reviewing the waiver is the date the president reviews Jackson-Vanik waivers for all other countries covered by the amendment.
Bush’s decision Wednesday marks the first time sanctions contained in the Jackson-Vanik Amendment to the U.S. Trade Act of 1974 have been waived against the Soviet Union.
The amendment is named for its authors, the late Sen. Henry (Scoop) Jackson (D-Wash.) and Rep. Charles Vanik (D-Ohio), who argued last year that a waiver for the Soviets was justified.