Soviet Jewry Group Urges President to Waive Jackson-vanik for One Year

The National Conference on Soviet Jewry said Thursday that it would support a one-year waiver of Jackson-Vanik Amendment sanctions against the Soviet Union because of the “unprecedented numbers of Soviet Jews” being allowed to emigrate.

The National Conference acted because President Bush must notify Congress by Monday which countries should receive most-favored-nation trade benefits, which allow them to export their products to the United States at the lowest tariffs.

The White House said Thursday that Bush has not yet made a decision whether to waive the Jackson-Vanik provisions, which bar the Soviet Union from receiving MFN status. The amendment to the U.S. Trade Act of 1974 permits a waiver of sanctions if the Soviet Union allows a sustained high level of emigration.

Bush is also still deciding whether it is time to ask Congress to ratify the trade treaty he signed last year with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and whether to approve a $1.5 billion grain credit for the Soviet Union.

Last December, Bush approved a partial waiver of Jackson-Vanik sanctions to allow the Soviets to buy grain and other agricultural products to prevent starvation over the winter.

The National Conference made its recommendation in “appreciation” for the continued flow of Soviet Jewish emigres to Israel, as well as for the Soviet legislature’s adoption on May 20 of the long-awaited emigration reform law, said James Wexler of Chicago, the group’s vice chairman.

A National Conference statement noted that the organization first expressed conditional support for a Jackson-Vanik waiver in June 1989. Since then, more than 300,000 Soviet Jews have been allowed to emigrate, including 50,000 during the first four months of 1991.

UCSJ STILL OPPOSES WAIVER

But another Soviet Jewry advocacy umbrella group, the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said Thursday it would continue to oppose a waiver, because it considers the emigration law flawed.

“I don’t understand what has changed, even if the emigration law were compliant with international standards of free movement, which it is clearly not,” said David Waksberg, the group’s vice president.

He pointed out that even if it were a good law, it does not go into effect until January 1993 and “will do nothing to help” those Soviet Jews who have been refused permission to emigrate.

The Union of Councils has sent a letter to Bush urging that he also not grant MFN status to China, because of its abuse of human rights. “We seek a uniform standard of compliance with the stricture of Jackson-Vanik,” said a Union of Councils statement.

The Union of Councils is an association of grass-roots Soviet Jewry groups that has tended to adopt a harder line on concessions to the Soviet Union. The National Conference, which is more of an establishment body, has argued that actual Soviet emigration performance matters more than what is codified in law.

The National Conference executive committee made its decision on the recommendation of its Jackson-Vanik task force, Wexler said in a telephone interview.

But he stressed that despite the move, his group is still concerned about any arbitrary “bottlenecks” to emigration, such as denial of visas to applicants because of their alleged access to state secrets or because of outstanding financial obligations to so-called “poor relatives.”

The National Conference is also concerned about recent difficulties in the processing of applications for Soviet Jews seeking to immigrate to the United States, Wexler said.

The bureaucratic hangup will probably mean that the full complement of 40,000 Soviet immigrants will not come to the United States before the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30.

This problem was raised by a State Department team that went to Moscow recently, said Mark Levin, the National Conference’s associate executive director. The group will continue to urge the administration and Congress to press the Soviets to remove all obstacles, he said.

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