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Bush’s Reappraisal of Jackson-vanik Takes Soviet Jewry Groups by Surprise

December 3, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

President Bush’s indication that he is considering waiving Jackson-Vanik Amendment trade sanctions against the Soviet Union before it enacts promised legislation reforming emigration policy has caught Soviet Jewry advocacy groups by surprise.

The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews announced its opposition to the idea minutes after President Bush mentioned the possibility Friday during a White House news conference on the Persian Gulf crisis.

The National Conference on Soviet Jewry is currently reviewing its policy on a waiver of the trade sanctions, which would allow U.S. agricultural products to be sold to the Soviet Union this winter, when severe food shortages are expected.

Bush pointed out that the Supreme Soviet has not yet enacted the sweeping emigration legislation that he has continually insisted must be adopted before he waives sanctions contained in the 1975 amendment, which links most-favored nation trade benefits with reforms of Soviet emigration policy.

Adoption of pending reform legislation “has not taken place, ” Bush said Friday. “But some are saying that I now have a clearer waiver authority than I thought.”

The president indicated he has not yet made a decision, but expects this week to consider recommendations on what to do.

A factor in his decision will be that “the exodus of Soviet Jews from the Soviet Union is high,” Bush said. “I’d like to take some credit for our administration on this. We’ve been steadfast in encouraging the exodus of Soviet Jews.”


Bush made clear that the major reason he is considering a waiver of Jackson-Vanik sanctions now is not only because the Soviet Union faces severe food shortages this winter, but also to help U.S. farmers in the Midwest.

“I don’t know exactly what I am going to do because we’re caught between some strong and understandable economic interests at home and a position for wanting to stand for free and fair emigration,” the president said.

He said he did not “want to work hardship on any sector of the American economy. I’m one of the strongest proponents against a grain embargo. And yet I’m told that some in middle American think that our position is really almost resulting in a grain embargo.”

But Bush also said he believes there are agricultural programs that can help the Soviets immediately without a waiver of Jackson-Vanik.

Food aid for the Soviet Union will be discussed at a hearing Wednesday of the House Agricultural subcommittee on wheat, soybeans and feed grains, chaired by Rep. Dan Glickman (D-Kan.). The National Conference on Soviet Jewry is scheduled to testify.

Before the hearing, the National Conference is expected to conclude a review of its policy on a Jackson-Vanik waiver, said Martin Wenick, its executive director.

The umbrella group’s policy until now has been that it would support a waiver if the president receives assurances from the Soviet Union in four categories.

These are a “sustained level” of high emigration; strict limits on the amount of time potential emigrants could be denied permission to leave on the grounds of access to state secrets; a resolution of the “poor relatives” problem, in which exit visas are denied anyone whose family members refuse to sign waivers of financial obligation; and progress on the cases of long-term refuseniks.


The Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, by contrast, has opposed a Jackson-Vanik waiver until emigration reforms are codified and given a chance to prove they are working.

Micah Naftalin, the group’s national director, and Pamela Cohen, its president, sent a letter to Bush on Friday, in which they stressed that the Soviet commitment to human rights is not just resolved by the high number of Soviet Jews leaving the country.

“The agreements of the Helsinki process require freedom of emigration no less than the strictures of Jackson-Vanik compel the conclusion that this is the moment to press, not release, the leverage,” the letter said.

Naftalin said he was surprised by the timing of Bush’s remarks. because the Supreme Soviet appeared ready to vote Tuesday on a new draft of the emigration legislation that does not go as far as earlier drafts in eliminating some of the emigration restrictions.

While earlier drafts put a five-year limit on how long a person could be refused emigration for possession of state secrets, the new version can extend the time indefinitely, he said. And the latest draft does not resolve the “poor relatives” problem, he said.

Naftalin said the proposed law also would effectively prevent the emigration of young males between ages 16 and 27 who are reservists or subject to military draft.

Wenick said the National Conference would be concerned if the new law did not solve the problems of state secrecy and poor relatives. But he indicated he did not believe the law would be adopted this week, a position apparently also taken by the Bush administration.


Naftalin said the latest draft became more restrictive because of the “paranoia” of Soviet conservatives about secrecy and the concern of Eastern European countries that a more liberal law would result in a flood of Soviet emigres to their countries.

But Wenick pointed out that each country could control such immigration through their own laws.

“It is not our goal to keep food from being sold from American farmers to the Soviet Union,” Naftalin stressed. But he said a way could be found to send humanitarian food aid without waiving Jackson-Vanik sanctions.

A Jackson-Vanik waiver would only be one step in providing trade credits and other benefits for the Soviet Union. These benefits could not be used until the Senate ratifies the trade agreement signed by Bush and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev at their summit in Washington last spring.

But here too, Bush promised he would not send the agreement to the Senate for ratification until the new emigration law is adopted.

“The Soviets are concerned about many aspects of this legislation, so I’m facing a decision as to what to do,” Bush said Friday.

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