297. Briefing Memorandum From the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Congressional Relations (Jenkins) to Secretary of State Kissinger1

Dobrynin and Vanik Talk about Jackson/Vanik Amendment

Charlie Vanik called me this morning to report on the evening he spent with Dobrynin last week. He had earlier told us that he had gotten a green light from President-elect Carter to have a general review of US-Soviet relations and the emigration problem with Dobrynin. Vanik invited the Dobrynins for dinner at his own home and they accepted. There were just the four of them.

Vanik emphasized, as the evening opened, that he was speaking only as an individual Congressman but reflected a general view within the Democratic Party, which was deeply committed to improving US-Soviet relations. He stressed to Dobrynin that he should understand this objective was a bipartisan objective and would not change because of a shift in the Administration.

Dobrynin interrupted Vanik at this point to say that he appreciated Vanik’s protestations that he was speaking as an individual, but that Harriman had phoned him and informed him that President-elect [Page 1104] Carter had endorsed Vanik’s suggestion of getting together. Dobrynin gave Vanik the clear impression throughout the evening that he has a continuing dialogue with Governor Harriman.2

Vanik moved directly into the question of how to solve the trade/emigration bottleneck. He said that if the Soviets would take initiatives unilaterally to diminish police harassment, accelerate the emigration of 500 or 600 prominent families in the Moscow/Leningrad area, and generally permit emigration statistics to inch upward, this would set the atmosphere for Congressional initiatives to back out of the present impasse.

Dobrynin commented on each of these points. He insisted that harassment was a matter of individual police responses in many cases to Jewish dissident provocations. He said he knows there have been excesses, but on the other hand, those Jews who are interested in leaving the Soviet Union have adopted a very difficult posture. He said, “You know our police are not used to this kind of behavior and many people seem to enjoy making the police lose their tempers.” Notwithstanding that explanation, Dobrynin said, he would agree to try and see that a general tone was established which could not be misinterpreted as official harassment. On the subject of the overall numbers, Dobrynin felt that this is subject to a number of elements, but his bottom line was that the figures probably could rise without too much difficulty. On key families, Dobrynin said categorically he would recommend that an active review of family reunification cases be undertaken quickly which would accelerate the departure of a number of cases in which the United States is particularly interested.

At this point in the conversation Mrs. Dobrynin, whom Vanik characterized as an active, outspoken participant throughout the evening, interrupted to say, “I think it is ridiculous and costly to our image to attempt to keep people who clearly want to leave.” She actively supported Vanik, in fact, with her husband, saying, “You must recommend that they be permitted to go right away. It will be well received by the new Administration and will certainly reduce criticism of the Soviet Union in the United States.”

Vanik suggested that he had been playing with the idea privately of a resolution which would call upon the President to take whatever steps he deemed appropriate to achieve progress toward the goals legislated—i.e., free emigration and improving trade relations with the So[Page 1105]viet Union. The President then could respond that, in the face of clear progress in Soviet emigration policy, he intended to issue a waiver. Congress in turn would indicate its support for such an act. Vanik opined that such a process would obviate the need for repeal or amendment of the legislation and would require nothing from the Soviets beyond the unilateral improvements he had discussed earlier. Vanik said he thought of a resolution which would refer to a two-year trial period.

Dobrynin rebelled at the thought of a two-year trial—or any time limit. He insisted that the Soviet Union is a proud and great country and could not be dictated to by a foreign country on such questions. However, he said, if you would remove the time limit, such a procedure would have much to commend it. He said, of course any such initiative by the President would have to include credits as well as MFN. Why not, said Dobrynin, just pass a resolution as you suggested, encouraging the President to take action which would be subject to repeal by the Congress at any time? “That is a fact of life in your legislature and you don’t have to state it. If you do and put a specific time limit, it then becomes a provocation to my Government.”

Dobrynin talked at some length of his desire for quick action on SALT. He told Vanik that they were very worried about our program to build a B–1 bomber. Dobrynin said, “If you go ahead with this program, then our people will have to work to develop a B–1 also. This kind of thing is terribly expensive for both sides. We are prepared to freeze our weapons systems at present levels. There is plenty of room for compromise and we consider this the most urgent international challenge we face.”

Vanik felt that Dobrynin intends to move rapidly on the emigration question, and he got the impression that we could look for some Soviet initiatives on reunification of families and emigration numbers within the next few months or even quicker.

Without endorsing any of Vanik’s own positions, I expressed our gratitude for his report and told him I would see it got to the appropriate people in the Department.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Lot File 81D286, Records of the Office of the Counselor, Box 10, POL 2 USSR—Emigration & Families. Confidential; Exdis. Forwarded through Sonnenfeldt.
  2. Two days after a meeting at Carter’s home in Plains, Georgia, Harriman visited Dobrynin in Washington on December 1 to convey the President-elect’s views on Soviet-American relations. A translation of Dobrynin’s report on the meeting with Harriman is in the U.S.-Soviet Relations Collection in the Virtual Archive of the Cold War International History Project.