Soviet Advocacy Groups Split on Most-favored-nation Status for USSR

The two major U.S. advocacy groups for Soviet Jewry took opposing views Tuesday on President Bush’s announcement that he would grant the Soviet Union most-favored-nation trade benefits.

Bush announced at the beginning of his two-day summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev that he would send to Congress for its ratification the year-old U.S.-Soviet trade agreement, granting the Soviets the opportunity to export goods to the United States at the lowest possible tariffs.

As expected, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews differed in their responses.

The National Conference welcomed Bush’s announcement, “which, we believe, is appropriate at this time in light of Soviet emigration performance in general and Jewish emigration performance in particular,” said Shoshana Cardin, the organization’s chairman.

But the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, which has often expressed apprehension over such a move, registered its disappointment.

Micah Naftalin, Union of Councils’ national director, said the group opposed the president’s decision “because we feel that the basic requisites (for MFN) have not been met.”

At the same time, Naftalin added, “we are grateful the president has held out as long as he has. We have averted MFN at least two years longer than we had any right to expect.”

The National Conference’s support was echoed by another American Jewish group, the Anti-Defamation League, which likewise hailed “the substantial and sustained emigration of Soviet Jews.”

“We applaud President Bush,” the league said in a statement.

NOT FAR ENOUGH

While the National Conference has been in favor of most-favored-nation status for the Soviet Union in light of the large number of Soviet Jews emigrating to Israel, the Union of Councils has argued that the Soviets have not gone far enough.

Although Bush and Gorbachev signed the trade agreement at their summit in Washington in June 1990, the president held up sending the bill to Congress until the Kremlin adopted a long-promised law codifying the reforms in emigration practices.

The Union of Councils feels that law leaves substantial problems for potential emigres.

The National Conference had announced in December that it would ask Bush to consider a one-year waiver of trade sanctions against the Soviet Union, which were imposed by the Jack-son-Vanik Amendment to the U.S. Trade Act of 1974.

The waiver was adopted in the spring, but Bush still delayed submitting the trade bill because of concern about certain Soviet trade practices, including such violations of intellectual property rights as the pirating of book, films, tapes and computer programs.

Cardin of the National Conference said Bush’s announcement is consistent with his recommendation June 3 of a one-year waiver of sanctions to allow the Soviets to obtain credits to buy U.S. agricultural products. A similar waiver had been granted last December.

BUREAUCRATIC OBSTACLES

“The legislation requires that the president, in his waiver recommendation, report to the Congress that his action will ‘substantially promote’ the objectives of freer emigration and that he has received appropriate assurances that the country’s emigration performances will lead to these objectives,” Cardin explained.

“These requirement are completely consistent with the aims, objectives, and policies of the NCSJ.”

But Naftalin argued that the new Soviet emigration law still does not meet international human rights standards and is not due to go into effect until January 1993.

Naftalin said that there are still long-term refuseniks in the Soviet Union and bureaucratic obstacles to emigration.

At the same time, “the Soviets should understand that they are not off the hook,” Naftalin added. He said Bush can review Soviet performance next June when the waiver will be up for renewal.

Both the National Conference and the Union of Council have stressed that they will continue to monitor the situation and continue to press for removal of the remaining obstacles to emigration.

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