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Proposed Soviet Emigration Reforms Welcomed, but Seen As Insufficient

September 30, 1988
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Soviet Jewry activists welcomed proposed reforms in the Soviet emigration code, but said the reforms would still not bring the Soviets into compliance with international human rights accords.

They were responding to a report in The New York Times Thursday that Soviet authorities had informed U.S. officials of some proposed changes during Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze’s visit here Sept. 22 to 23.

One proposed change would end the requirement that potential emigrants receive a letter of invitation from family members abroad.

Also, those denied emigration on the grounds of access to “state secrets” could not be denied on those grounds, after a certain number of months or years had elapsed. Anyone whose parents refused to allow them to emigrate could appeal to a judicial board.

State Department spokeswoman Phyllis Oakley said Thursday that “even with these changes, not all individuals will still be able to exercise their right to leave the Soviet Union.” Oakley said she was not aware of any timetable guiding Soviet enactment of the proposed changes.

Micah Naftalin, national director of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said that when he visited Moscow in June, Soviet officials had discussed precisely the proposed reforms and promised that they would be placed in draft form by the end of September.

Morris Abram, chairman of both the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, called the possible changes a “hopeful sign.”

Nevertheless, he added, “We judge by performance.”


Abram, who met Sept. 16 with Secretary of State George Shultz, also said he was not surprised by the possibility of changes. “We have been told for a long time that changes are coming.”

A group of Jewish leaders met privately Wednesday night in New York with Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres.

They discussed Israel’s demand that Jews leaving the USSR with Israeli visas go directly to Israel, and not to the United States and other countries, as most now do.

Abram said they agreed on the principle of freedom of choice, and that Peres said it “was not the policy of the Israeli government to coerce anybody.”

Naftalin explained that recently, the Soviets have allowed the “overwhelming majority” of Jews immigrating to Israel to receive letters of invitation from even distant direct relatives.

Glenn Richter, national coordinator of the Soviet Struggle for Soviet Jewry, said the possible reforms represent “another dangle of promise in front of the West, just as the Soviets have done many times before.”

Richter said that Soviet leaders have previously promised such reforms and have not followed through.

In addition, if the reported possible changes came to pass, they would still not allow an “absolute right to emigrate,” he said.

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