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Gorbachev Emigration Threat Gets Cautious Response from White House

June 5, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The White House declined to reveal Monday what the Bush administration would do if Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev carried out his threat to suspend Jewish emigration, but American Jewish leaders did not hesitate to voice their concern over the Soviet leader’s unprecedented announcement.

“It is not an issue at this time,” White House spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said. “But certainly the president will have to review the matter” if exit permits are halted.

Fitzwater said that Bush had made clear in signing a trade agreement with Gorbachev that he would not send the agreement to Congress for ratification until the Supreme Soviet adopted new legislation codifying the Soviet’s more liberal emigration policies.

Until the law is passed, Bush also will not waive sanctions contained in the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, which bars the Soviet Union from receiving U.S. trade benefits until it reforms its emigration policy.

At the State Department on Monday, spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler said there was “nothing said in private conversations” during the summit that “indicated in any way that the Soviets would not live up to their commitment” to allow Jews to emigrate.

After Gorbachev made his surprise threat, Secretary of State James Baker said, “We unconditionally support the concept of Soviet Jewish emigration.”

Appearing Sunday on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press,” Baker said U.S. support for continued emigration is a distinct issue from U.S. opposition to Jewish settlements in the administered territories. “We haven’t linked the two in the way President Gorbachev was suggesting,” he said.


In San Francisco, where Gorbachev stopped Monday en route to Moscow, Jewish “Gorbymania” was subdued. Both the Bay Area Council for Soviet Jews and the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council expressed their “shock and dismay” over the Gorbachev threat.

The National Conference on Soviet Jewry attempted to contact the Soviet leader before his return to the Soviet Union.

In a telegram sent Monday to the Soviet Consulate in San Francisco, Martin Wenick, the group’s executive director, warned the Soviet leader that if he follows through on his threat, the National Conference would reconsider its stance in favor of a Jackson-Vanik waiver.

In New York, Natan Sharansky held a special news conference Monday to express his outrage over the Soviet leader’s remark. He was in New York for two days to raise funds for Soviet Jewish resettlement in Israel.

“I think it’s a shameful statement,” the renowned former Soviet Jewish refusenik said. “Gorbachev has refused to take very clear actions against anti-Semitism and now he joins the chorus of voices accusing” the Israeli government of settling Soviet Jews in the West Bank and Gaza.

Sharansky called upon the Bush administration to “make clear to Gorbachev and the Soviet government that any change in the policy of letting Soviet Jews out of the country” will jeopardize the chances for a Jackson-Vanik waiver and “make it impossible to implement the trade agreement” signed at the summit.

But amid the virtual maelstrom of condemnations coming form Jewish organizations, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations sounded a note of restraint.

Gorbachev’s statement is “of concern to us,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the conference’s executive director, “but we recognize that it was predicated on Israel placing Soviet Jewish immigrants in the territories. And Israel is simply not doing that.

“The real issue is the Arab campaign against all Jewish emigration. And none of their ruses is going to be allowed to intimidate or deter Soviet Jewish emigration,” he said.

(JTA staff writer Elena Newman in New York contributed to this report.)

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