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Soviets Ok New Emigration Law; Jackson-vanik Could Be Waived

November 17, 1989
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Supreme Soviet this week gave initial approval to an emigration reform law that may lead the United States to waive the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has restricted U.S.-Soviet trade since 1974.

President Bush said in May that he would be prepared to grant a one-year waiver of the amendment “should the Soviet Union codify its emigration laws, in accord with international standards, and implement its new laws faithfully.”

A State Department source said it would “directly contradict” U.S. policy for Bush to waive the amendment on or before his meetings with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, scheduled to take place aboard ships off Malta on Dec. 2-3.

The Jackson-Vanik amendment to the 1974 Foreign Trade Act, co-sponsored by the late Sen. Henry Jackson (D-Wash.) and former Rep. Charles Vanik (D-Ohio), linked most-favored-nation trade status for the Soviet Union and other Communist bloc countries to their emigration policies.

In announcing Bush’s statement, State Department spokesperson Margaret Tutwiler denied that the United States and Soviet Union have already begun to negotiate on a commercial trade agreement, which would be needed to actually lower U.S tariffs on Soviet goods.

The Soviet emigration law passed with a 355-10 vote, with five abstentions. Soviet passage of the amendment came on a first reading of the bill.

It next goes to the Supreme Soviet’s Committee on Foreign Affairs, then back to the Supreme Soviet for possible passage.


The law sets a five-year limit on the possession of “state secrets” as grounds for denying the right to emigrate. It does not state if the condition will apply retroactively.

A State Department source said the Soviet Union gave assurances that “secrecy” refuseniks will have their cases re-evaluated by emigration officials.

Yuri Dubinin, the Soviet ambassador to the United States, said at a news conference Thursday that the “state secrets” basis for denying the right to emigrate could be extended beyond five years only in “exceptional cases,” and then not by administrative action, but by the Supreme Soviet’s Committee on Citizenship.

He also said he knew of no time constraint the legislation would place on the OVIR emigration agency for granting visas.

The legislation also reduces the power of “poor relatives” to stop members of their family from emigrating because they would supposedly lose financial support.

The new law would force them to bring any such allegations to Soviet courts for adjudication, said Soviet Embassy spokesman Boris Malakhov.

In addition, the legislation apparently paves the way for Soviet Jews to directly apply to emigrate to the country in which they intend to reside.

Actually, this procedure went into effect Oct. 1, because of new American immigration restrictions, which were predicated on Soviet passage of this emigration law.

The two major U.S. Soviet Jewry groups, the National Conference on Soviet Jewry and the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, welcomed the Supreme Soviet’s passage of the measure.

But they are divided over when would be an appropriate time for Bush to waive the amendment.

In June, the National Conference, a coalition of 47 national Jewish groups and nearly 300 Jewish community relations councils and federations, said it would support a waiver if Bush receives Soviet assurances in four key areas: sustained level of emigration; limits on “state secrets”; reversal of refusals to “poor relatives”; and progress on cases of long-term refuseniks.

In a statement Tuesday, Shoshana Cardin, the National Conference chairwoman, praised the language on state secrets and expressed hope that the measure will augur “full religious and cultural rights to all Soviet citizens.”

Pamela Cohen, president of the Union of Councils for Soviet Jews, said Wednesday that the group will not support a waiver until “final enactment” of the legislation, and its “fair implementation.”

Dubinin said Thursday the Soviets had not received any assurances that Bush would waive Jackson-Vanik. But, he said, “We expect positive steps from the American side.”

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