At the Summit: Much Talk, but Little Progress on Human Rights and Emigration
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At the Summit: Much Talk, but Little Progress on Human Rights and Emigration

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The issue of human rights was discussed throughout the summit between President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, but no agreements were announced when the three days of talks ended Thursday.

But this should not discourage supporters of Soviet Jewry, according to Richard Schifter, assistant secretary of state for human rights and humanitarian affairs.

“When we are talking about human rights, it’s not so much what happens at the summit that counts,” Schifter said in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency at his State Department office Friday. “It’s what happens in between meetings.”

Schifter said human rights came up in meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev, between Secretary of State George Shultz and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze and between other officials and their Soviet counterparts.

Views were exchanged “with the hope that something is going to happen afterward,” Schifter said. He noted that in the weeks before the summit, 48 Soviet Jewish families were allowed to emigrate.

While conceding that this is a small number, Schifter said that at least for these families, their long ordeal is over.

Schifter said now that the summit is over he did not expect the Soviets to slow down Jewish emigration, which has been running at more than 700 a month since April, compared to only 914 in all of 1986.

He noted that are is a continuing agenda on issues the Soviets are pressing, including a summit in Moscow next year and Senate ratification of the treaty on medium and short-range missiles, which Reagan and Gorbachev signed last Wednesday.


Reagan made mention of the importance of human rights to United States-Soviet relations in every one of his public statements during the summit, including his televised report to the American people Thursday night.

“On human rights, there was some very limited movement: resolution of a number of individual cases, in which prisoners will be released or exit visas granted,” the president said. “There were assurances of future, more substantial movement, which we hope to see become a reality.”

One change, according to Schifter, is that parents will no longer be able to deny adult children permission to emigrate without “showing good cause” such as financial dependence or illness.

The joint statement issued by the United States and the Soviet Union issued at the end of the summit had one sentence on human rights. “The leaders held a thorough and candid discussion of human rights and humanitarian questions and their place in the U.S.-Soviet dialogue,” it said.

Gorbachev appeared irritated when the subject was raised in his meetings with members of Congress and private Americans. He reportedly told Reagan when the president outlined his views, “you are not the prosecutor and I am not the accused.”

During a 70-minute monologue in which Gorbachev opened his news conference before leaving Washington Thursday, the Soviet leader chided reporters for constantly raising the human rights issue and said this is why he had not granted more interviews.

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