PRESIDENT Bush's agreement to waive until next June some
restrictions of the 1974 trade act and to grant up to $1 billion in
agricultural credits to the Soviet Union has domestic and foreign
policy advantages for the White House.
It also illustrates how important the issues of Jews and Israel
are to US-Soviet relations.
The restrictions, known as the Jackson-Vanik and Stevenson
amendments, prohibit the granting of beneficial trade tariffs or
government credits over $300 million to communist countries that do
not allow free emigration. Sponsored by the late Sen. Henry Jackson
(D) of Washington and Rep. Charles Vanik (D) of Ohio, they were
intended to force the Soviets to allow Jews more freedom to emigrate
The restrictions were added to the trade act at a time when
President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger were trying
to expand commercial and technical ties with the Soviets.
Conservatives opposed to this policy of detente saw the curbs as a
way to torpedo a developing relationship with a state they abhorred.
The American Jewish community strongly supported the linkage of
trade and emigration as the only practical leverage the US had to
help win freedom for persecuted Soviet Jewry.
The trade act included provisions allowing the president, with
Congress's approval, to waive the restrictions. During the 1970s and
early 1980s, for example, Romania allowed a relatively large number
of its citizens to emigrate, and was rewarded with annual waivers.
This stopped as President Nicolae Ceausescu became increasingly
repressive. Hungary and China also received waivers.
Trade act and Soviet Jews
But it was never clear whether the Jackson-Vanik amendment helped
or hurt the cause of Soviet Jews. Jewish emigration from the Soviet
Union, which had been growing during the detente era, fell
precipitously after the amendments were passed. It did not rebound
until the Carter era, when the controversial SALT II arms control
treaty was signed and a move was afoot to waive the restrictions.
Those hopes evaporated in the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of
Afghanistan and the US-Soviet hostility of the early Reagan years.
Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union began to grow again after
Mikhail Gorbachev took the reins of power in Moscow and launched his
policies of glasnost and perestroika. It rose proportionately as
US-Soviet relations improved beginning in 1985. At the same time,
doubts began to increase among US Jews about the effectiveness or
appropriateness of continuing the trade curbs.
In the last three years, Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union
has mushroomed tenfold to 180,000 this year. About an equal number
of non-Jewish Soviets will also depart.
Trade act and Bush
The Bush administration has resisted lifting the Jackson-Vanik
restrictions and submitting a new US-Soviet trade agreement to
Congress until the Soviet parliament passes a law allowing free
emigration. Soviet leaders have repeatedly indicated this will
happen soon, but they have been saying that for the past year. Until
an acceptable law is enacted, the ban on lower tariffs remains in
But Bush's hand was forced by a variety of factors. The West
badly wants Gorbachev to stay in power for fear that whoever might
take his place would turn back the clock on human rights and
military withdrawal from Eastern Europe. …