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Behind the Headlines What Next for Mfn?

October 4, 1973
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Capitol Hill observers had long expected that the vote in the Ways and Means Committee on the Mills-Vanik Amendment to the United States-Soviet trade legislation would be very close and change from day to day.

When the climax finally came on Rosh Hashana eve, it was indeed tight and illuminated the strenuous struggle between the Nixon Administration’s opposition to laws restricting Soviet-American trade and those who regard the amendment as the rallying symbol for Soviet Jews and others challenging the Soviet government for freedom to emigrate and for human rights. The companion bill in the Senate is the Jackson Amendment.

What finally emerged from the Committee was not the amendment sponsored by 18 of the panel’s 25 members. A major section, which would have given Congress control over credits and credit guarantees, was deleted when a remarkable 12-12 tie vote on a jurisdictional issue failed to overturn the deletion offered by the Committee’s ranking Republican member Rep. Herman T. Schneebeli of Pennsylvania, a foe of the amendment as a whole.

What remains is that most favored nation treatment status is denied to the Soviet Union and other governments that refuse their citizens the right to emigrate or impose more than a minimal tax on those emigrating. This is hailed nonetheless by amendment supporters as a legislative landmark and a great victory.


Sen. Henry Jackson (D.Wash.) has expressed himself as “extremely pleased” with the measure. He is confident that the full House, in voting on the Trade Reform Act, will make credits conditional on free emigration just as the Committee has established the principle, to be written into law, that the United States government will grant MFN status only to those nations with reasonable emigration practices.

In its present diluted form the amendment does not bar the President from giving the Soviet Union credits, which he already has done through the U.S. Export-Import Bank to the tune of about $400 million. But the Soviet government cannot have the recognition it wishes to be a normal U.S. trading partner, nor can it obtain the lower tariff rates that MFN status provides on what it may be able to sell in the United States.

“The war is not over,” a Congressional aide intimate with the legislation cautioned yesterday. “It has gone well so far even if not entirely in our favor. There is much hard fighting ahead before it is won.” What he meant was that the legislative process has only just begun. The amendment is now before the House Rules Committee which will consider its priority on Oct. 9. It is understood the House as a whole will probably vote on it Oct. 18.

Rep. Charles A. Vanik (D.Ohio), one of the amendment’s three authors has already announced to its 287 House co-sponsors that he will seek to restore the credit restrictions at that time. Only after the House finishes its action will the Senate begin consideration with the likelihood it will not receive the measures from its Finance Committee before early in 1974.

Soviet hostility to the House vote tying MFN credits to its emigration practices increased in intensity as the amendment moved to its landmark stage. In the days when the Ways and Means Committee was locked in secret sessions, Soviet Communist Party leader Leonid Brezhnev, Prime Minister Aleksei Kosygin and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko sharply reiterated previous Kremlin charges of interference with Soviet internal affairs and hinted a freeze on detente.

Gromyko, in fact, fumed at the United Nations General Assembly over “noisy propaganda campaigns” and “blackmail.” When he came to Washington after the Committee’s decision, President Nixon told him he would continue to try to persuade Congress to bring about “a satisfactory resolution” of the trade bill to fulfill his pledge that the Soviet Union would get MFN status.


In the legislative battles ahead, Soviet pressure can be expected to be extended on two lines. One is based on Soviet ratification of two international covenants dealing with human rights, including freedom of religion, peaceful assembly and emigration, approved by the UN General Assembly in 1966. In announcing the Soviet action, Moscow newspapers emphasized that these rights could be restricted for reasons of national security and protection of public order, health and morals.

Observers here regard the press play as a warning of what the Soviet leaders think the covenants do not allow. Another line is continuing of promotion of fears, expressed most loudly but without persuasive evidence to those in the West who want detente regardless of its human cost, that U.S. pressure on the Soviet government only stiffens the opposition to detente by Stalinist hard-liners. In addition, a ploy already visible is the fear being expressed by some Americans of what will happen to Jews who do not leave the Soviet Union if MFN is denied to the Kremlin.

Vanik, in the absence of Committee chairman Wilbur Mills (D.Ark.), who was ill, emerged as a hero for the amendment in the Committee’s final bitter hours. Research he instituted on Administration propaganda forced an apology from Stephen Lazarus, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Commerce for East-West trade.

Only four days before the Committee was scheduled to vote, a member asked Lazarus whether Israel granted the Soviet Union MFN treatment. Lazarus reportedly replied in the affirmative and thereupon gave to the Committee a report on Soviet-Israel commerce. It showed, he told the Committee, that millions of dollars in trade between them took place in the 20 years between 1952 and 1972.

“It took researchers two days to correct these outright falsehoods” the Jewish Telegraphic Agency was informed. Israel does not have MFN; it treats all nations alike in trade. Since 1956, there has been no Israeli-Soviet trade except for transfer of land in Jerusalem from the Russian Orthodox Church to Israel, for which Israel paid in citrus fruit and bananas. These figures and the implications, which Lazarus later conceded had been incorrect, and similar errors in Nixon’s international economic message last March, could have destroyed the Mills-Vanik bill if they had not been exposed quickly as untrue. The errors in Nixon’s message were spotted by Jackson’s staff and were brought to the attention of the White House which issued an apology.


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