88. Memorandum From Helmut Sonnenfeldt of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Kissinger)1


  • MFN for the USSR; Shultz Meeting

Since Secretary Shultz explained to Deputy Premier Novikov and then to Brezhnev the possible strategies we may use to deliver on the President’s commitment to obtain MFN for the USSR,2 the Soviets have permitted Jewish emigration to flow more freely. (See the status report at Tab B.)3 There is also talk in Moscow that the emigration tax law is “up in the air”.

In light of this Secretary Rogers has sent the President a memo (Tab A) expressing the judgment that it may now be possible to find a compromise solution that satisfies all the parties.4 He advocates a tacit [Page 299] arrangement with the Soviets involving an annual emigration rate of at least 36,000 Jews, one sixth of whom would be individuals with higher education; there would also be assurances that through use of waivers inability to pay the education tax would not prevent emigration. In addition, there would be some less specific understanding that there would be no harassment of applicants for emigration. The Secretary’s memo gives reasons why such a deal might be acceptable in Moscow if it assured the Soviets of MFN and continued EXIM access.

Procedurally, the Secretary would seek to get American Jewish and then Israeli support for this approach.5 Assuming success in this, as he does, the Secretary would then approach Dobrynin to get Soviet assurances that the proposed arrangement is acceptable. Then the sponsors of the JacksonMillsVanik proposal6 would be approached and assured that firm though informal commitments had been made by the Soviets in exchange for prompt granting of MFN. These legislative sponsors would get off the hook by issuing a statement to the effect that the Administration had provided assurances that it had reason to believe that Jewish emigration would continue at no less than present quantitative and qualitative levels and that the tax would not be applied so as to restrict emigration.

The course of action proposed by Secretary Rogers rests on at least two key judgments: that the Soviets will accept a specific, if informal deal; that even if they do, Jackson et al will consider this particular one sufficient to withdraw their requirement for periodic Presidential findings that the Soviets are allowing free emigration. I question both judgments; and I also consider it unlikely that any such deal could remain unpublicized, no matter how informal it was. Once public, the Administration would of course have become a party to a Soviet emigration quota of 36,000 heads a year and someone will be bound to calculate the per capita remittances we are making to the USSR through EXIM loans and tariff concessions for people released. This may be a harsh and prejudiced assessment and you may well have a different view of what is undoubtedly a genuine effort to get us out of the dilemma we now face. You may wish to discuss this proposal with Secretary Shultz, whose own preference has been for attempting to erode support for the Jackson amendment by the strategy he explained to Brezhnev. It, too, of course would require cooperative Soviet action on [Page 300] the emigration front as a crucial element but would, I believe, depend more on a pattern of observable performance by the Soviets than on an explicit numerical deal. (Maybe, after CSCE, the Soviets could even take their law off the books.)

At some point, Shultz and you may want to sit down with Jackson and Mills and, I suppose Vanik, to see whether such an observable pattern of extensive emigration would persuade them to alter the terms of their measure:

—to a proposition under which MFN etc. would continue unless the President found that there were unreasonable impediments to emigration;

—or, less desirably, to a requirement for periodic renewal of MFN by the President, based on a finding of no unreasonable impediment.

You may also want to discuss with Secretary Shultz the bureaucratic issues raised by Secretary Rogers’ memo since that document would clearly place the key actions within the Department of State (except for the ultimate steps with the Congress, where he recommends the President’s personal involvement).

There is also still a question about whether to put the request for MFN authority in the overall trade bill. The pros and cons are still what they were: incorporation may deter some present supporters of the JacksonVanikMills measure because they may not want to risk a Presidential veto of the whole package; at the same time, we can always separate the MFN portion later. Against incorporation is the argument that in the end the President may have to confront a veto of the whole trade bill. (Note: If JacksonVanikMills passes in its present form, the President is almost forced to veto since otherwise he cannot continue to grant EXIM and CCC credit facilities to the USSR without certifying that free emigration exists in the USSR.)

You should also nail down the proposition that however the legislation comes out, the President should have authority to move on his MFN commitment to Romania.7


Following your discussion with Secretary Shultz,8 I will need your guidance on how you wish to deal with the Rogers memo to the President.

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, Box 953, VIP Visits, George P. Shultz (Europe & USSR), Mar. 8–22, 1973. Secret; Sensitive; Eyes Only.
  2. See Document 84.
  3. Attached but not printed is an undated memorandum from Eliot to Kissinger. Eliot wrote: “Evidence from the last few days indicates that the Soviets may have already significantly altered their practices in regard to collection of the education tax. They appear to be making wide use of tax waivers, an option contained in the original August 1972 Council of Ministers’ decree.” Regarding the decree, see Document 27.
  4. Attached but not printed is Rogers’ March 23 memorandum to Nixon. Rogers also stated that “the Soviet leadership would find the solution acceptable because: the increased emigration would be within tolerable limits; there would be no need formally to abrogate any Soviet decrees or regulations; Congressional approval of MFN and credit guarantees would be assured.”
  5. Rogers wrote in his March 23 memorandum to Nixon: “First, I will invite the three American Jewish leaders with whom I have dealt on this matter, Messrs. Fisher, Stein, and Maass, to Washington to seek their support. Simultaneously, we will seek the active support of the Israelis.”
  6. See Document 76.
  7. For additional information on Nixon’s MFN commitment to Romania, see Foreign Relations, 1969–1976, volume XXIX, Eastern Europe, Eastern Mediterranean, 1969–1972, Documents 200, 202, 204, and 208.
  8. For the memorandum of conversation between Kissinger and Shultz, see ibid., volume XXXI, Foreign Economic Policy, 1973–1976, Document 167.