U.S. May Permanently Lift Trade Sanctions on Russia

The United States will review a host of Cold War sanctions applied against Russia, including the trade restrictions imposed by the 1974 Jackson-Vanik Amendment, President Clinton announced Sunday after a summit meeting with Russian President Boris Yeltsin.

Russia has long sought to gain most-favored-nation trade status with the United States, but under Jackson-Vanik, America linked the trade benefit to Russia’s emigration policies.

Clinton said he had been in consultation with Congress about removing the Jackson-Vanik restrictions against Russia permanently, but that the administration would not take a final position until after some more facts were checked.

The issue, Clinton said, is “a fact question: Are there any more people barred from emigrating which have not been allowed to?”

Clinton said Yeltsin assured him whoever wanted to emigrate was able to do so, but that the United States wanted to confirm this.

Yeltsin, however, implied in his remarks that the matter had already been settled.

“We’ve decided to do away with the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and resolve other legislative issues,” the jubilant Russian leader said at a joint news conference in which Clinton announced a $1.6 billion of loans and grants to spur Russia’s transition to a market economy.

Jackson-Vanik was enacted in 1974 as a means of putting pressure on the Soviet Union to increase the level of Jewish emigration. Since the current emigration boom began in the late 1980s, the United States has waived the trade restrictions on an annual basis.

But the United States has stopped short of permanently lifting the ban.

White House Communications Director George Stephanopoulous told reporters here that the administration would look into claims that up to 300 Jews are still being denied the right to leave.

JEWISH GROUPS SPLIT OVER ISSUE

In recent weeks, American Jewish groups have staked out differing positions, with some calling for Congress to permanently remove Russia from the terms of the amendment, others supporting a continuation of a year-by-year waiver if justified by the facts on the ground, and still others insisting that the amendment’s full sanctions be enforced.

Calling for the rescission of Jackson-Vanik was the American Jewish Congress, which argued that “the most important protection that can be accorded Russian Jews — along with all minorities in that country — is to promote the stability of the Russian government and the preservation of democratic institutions and practices.”

Removing the amendment would shore up democracy, the AJCongress maintains, since it would “constitute a significant gesture of support and would provide an additional stimulus and incentive for the still embryonic Russian private sector.”

But the National Conference on Soviet Jewry sharply disagrees.

“There are still issues that remain to be resolved” regarding emigration rights and procedures, the agency’s executive director, Mark Levin, said Sunday.

These include the failure, until now, to establish a promised review commission to look into those denied permission to exit because of knowledge of so-called state secrets.

More fundamentally, Levin cites the “political uncertainty and volatility” of Russia and the other republics of the former Soviet Union as a reason not to eliminate Jackson-Vanik and instead continue the present process of granting a waiver on a year-by-year basis.

At the same time, Levin said, the National Conference strongly supports Western assistance to Russia “to continue the democratic and economic reforms,” as well as the announced review of Cold War-era statutes.

The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, on the other hand, believes that U.S. aid to Russia should be conditional on “measurable progress on human rights and the democracy infrastructure in Russia.”

NEXT STORY