Attorney General Dick Thornburgh told Soviet officials in Moscow last week that he would urge President Bush to waive trade sanctions against the Soviet Union if it adopts emigration reforms in three areas.
Thornburgh met with Rudolf Kuznetsov, head of the Soviet OVIR emigration agency, and received a copy of the latest draft legislation to ease Soviet emigration restrictions, Murray Dickman, an aide to the attorney general, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency on Tuesday.
Dickman said Thornburgh told Kuznetsov that he would recommend a waiver of sanctions contained in the 1975 Jackson-Vanik Amendment if the Soviets enact legislation that would:
End emigration refusals to those privy to “state secrets”;
Prevent relatives of potential emigres from blocking their emigration; and
Ease the requirement for a “letter of invitation” from relatives abroad.
Dickman said the Justice Department had not yet translated the draft legislation presented to Thornburgh. He also said Soviet officials initially would not give the attorney general a copy, on the grounds that members of the Supreme Soviet had not yet seen it. The legislation is expected to be considered by the Soviet parliament as early as next spring.
Dickman reported that as a result of Thornburgh’s visit, Kuznetsov will likely have a “continuing relationship” with Immigration and Naturalization Service Commissioner-designate Gene McNary. In addition, he said a bilateral working group is being set up to address emigration issues.
The Jackson-Vanik Amendment denies most-favored-nation trade status and U.S. government aid to the Soviets and some other Communist countries.
JEWISH OFFICIALS TOUR FACILITIES
Accompanying Thornburgh on the first trip by a U.S. attorney general to the Soviet Union were three U.S. Jewish officials: Carmi Schwartz, executive vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations; Mark Talisman, its Washington representative; and Karl Zukerman, executive vice president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
The Jewish officials did not sit in on any of Thornburgh’s meetings with Kuznetsov or the attorney general’s counterparts at the Soviet Ministry of Justice. But they inspected the new refugee processing center being constructed at the U.S. Embassy and sat in on a refugee interview.
Thornburgh invited the Jewish delegation to Moscow to examine how the United States is implementing its recent decision to shift its processing of Soviet refugees from Rome to the Soviet captial.
The shift, which went into effect Oct. 1, means that any Soviet Jews now leaving the Soviet Union on an Israeli entry visa can no longer “drop out” in Vienna, travel to Rome and apply there for permission to enter the United States as a refugee.
The Jewish delegation did not get an answer to one of its primary concerns: whether there will be “capricious” denials of refugee status by U.S. officials in Moscow, as Schwartz put it.
But Dickman said that U.S. immigration officials are likely to deny refugee status to some of the Soviet Jews applying at the embassy in Moscow. He said U.S. refugee law prohibits the Immigration and Naturalization Service from granting refugee status to everyone who applies for it.
Phillip Saperia, assistant executive vice president of HIAS, agreed that there are “bound to be denials.”
Refugee status, limited to foreigners demonstrating “a well-founded fear of persecution,” entitles recipients to U.S. government funds for transportation and initial resettlement, as well as allowing them to seek U.S. citizenship.
DOCTOR TELLS OF ANTI-SEMITISM
Schwartz reported that there are currently six INS adjudicators at the Moscow embassy and that 20 additional adjudicators are expected to be sent there within a few months.
He described the personnel he met with as “extremely cooperative,” but said the team of adjudicators expected to arrive “are going to need some very serious sensitivity training” on the situation for Jews in the Soviet Union.
Schwartz said he believes there is still anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, as claimed by a Soviet Jewish family in the refugee interview he sat in on at the embassy.
In the interview, a Soviet Jewish otolaryngologist claimed to have experienced “serious anti-Semitism on the job.”
The doctor said that in February, a patient asked her if she was Jewish, “because you have a Jew face.” The patient refused to be examined, because “Jewish doctors are known to kill their non-Jewish patients in the Soviet Union,” the doctor told an INS official.
Her husband, also a doctor, said they “were confronted on subways and clinics with people swaying to imitate Jews at prayer,” Schwartz said.
The interview was “conducted in a hallway with a 5-foot portable partition wall,” he said, explaining that INS officials currently work in “very cramped facilities and quarters.”
The Jewish officials also saw newly refurbished sections of the embassy, where new waiting spaces, interview rooms and consular offices are being built.
LULAV AND ETROG OUTSIDE EMBASSY
Outside the embassy were lines of Soviets waiting to file refugee applications. The Jewish officials independently confirmed that 10 percent of those waiting were Jewish, by asking U.S. officials and two Lubavitcher rabbis.
The rabbis “walked up and down the line to engage (Jews) in blessing the etrog and lulav,” Schwartz said, speaking of the ritual items used on the Sukkot festival.
The delegation also met with Israel’s vice consul in Moscow, Yakov Kedmi. Kedmi, whose delegation arrived in the Soviet Union in July 1988, recently visited Birobijan, the area of eastern Siberia the Soviets established in 1934 as a “Jewish autonomous region.”
Kedmi reported that about 13,000 people there acknowledge they are Jewish and that an equivalent amount probably are, but do not say so. He said that Jews there asked for information about Israel, including videotapes and cassettes.
Schwartz called the apparent new communications system between Jews in the Soviet Union and Israel a “positive aspect of glasnost,” the Soviet word for openness.
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.