105. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Moscow Trip, Soviet Jewish Emigration, Shcharanskiy Case, Humphrey-Findley Bill


  • Eugene Gold, Chairman, National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ)
  • Rabbi Alexander Schindler, Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
  • Jerry Goodman, Executive Director, NCSJ
  • Marina Wallach, Washington Representative, NCSJ
  • Yehuda Hellman, Executive Director, Conference of Presidents
  • The Secretary
  • Patricia Derian, Assistant Secretary, HA
  • William H. Luers, Deputy Assistant Secretary, EUR
  • Melvyn Levitsky, EUR/SOV (notetaker)

The Secretary began by briefing the group on the results of his trip to Moscow. He said the general atmosphere was somewhat better this time. He informed Gold that during the visit we had given the Soviets the list of hardship emigration cases which was prepared by the NCSJ. We had received no immediate response, but the Secretary noted that the Soviets in such cases never go beyond saying they will study the matter. In this context, the Secretary referred to the fact that the emigration figures were substantially up from 1977. Gold said the NCSJ was aware of this approximate 40 percent increase.

The Secretary stated that the Soviets are well aware of our concerns in the Shcharanskiy case. His impression was that the Soviets are still struggling over the question of what to do and how to proceed on the case. He was convinced that it is being handled at the highest level in Moscow. There were no new developments to report, however. He said we would keep after the Soviets and continue to press them on the Shcharanskiy case.

Gold asked how the Secretary saw the situation playing out.

The Secretary responded that we had done a good deal of advance planning so that we could handle any contingency promptly. He felt [Page 347] the best way for the Government to act was to continue to exert pressure quietly while private organizations kept up public pressure.

Gold asked for the Secretary’s opinion on possible prisoners exchanges involving Shcharanskiy, a subject which had appeared in the press.

The Secretary replied that there was nothing to report with regard to an exchange for Shcharanskiy. We had no proposals from the Soviets on which to act. The Secretary asked Luers to comment on Gold’s question about the potential for an exchange in the future.

Luers said we felt the Soviets were still deciding what to do on the case and might be trying to find a way out. We continue to believe that they will have a trial and convict Shcharanskiy but they may be thinking of a post-trial expulsion or an exchange. Either of these could take place, even after Shcharanskiy was imprisoned. Luers noted that we were treating the exchange issue very delicately now, since we do not want to close off options for the future.

In response to Gold’s and Schindler’s questions about how we follow up on the lists we present to the Soviets, the Secretary said that we keep track of progress on these cases here and in Moscow. Our impression is that there has been some progress. Luers remarked that we were considering, along with Ms. Derian’s office, following up with the Soviets on CSCE matters and that emigration and family reunification were subjects which could be covered.

Goodman said the NCSJ’s records show that the list of refused Jewish emigrants remains about the same in size, but that the people on it change. Some are allowed out but others receive new refusals and take their places.

The Secretary said we felt the presentation of a list was a prodding factor which had a positive effect in general. Gold and Schindler agreed with this assessment.

Goodman asked the Secretary if he felt the relatively better emigration flow in recent months would continue. The Secretary said he wanted to be cautious in making predictions, but that he guessed that the improved situation would continue.

Gold mentioned that the NCSJ had shown some flexibility in testifying on the Humphrey-Findley Bill which would exempt CCC credits from the Jackson-Vanik restrictions. Congressman Findley had told them that he was interested in helping American farmers, but that he felt China was more important in this regard. He therefore said he would be willing to consider any proposal by the NCSJ which would exclude the Soviet Union from the Bill. Gold and Goodman pointed out that the NCSJ had decided not to present such a proposal and that while they did not support the Bill, neither had they tried to institute a [Page 348] massive campaign against it. They wanted to show a reasonable attitude and that American Jews were not just nay-sayers. They asked the Secretary if he thought this should be pointed out to the Soviets as a way of encouraging them to continue their better performance in emigration. Schindler felt that this should be made explicit, that the message on the Jewish community’s flexibility should be imparted to the Soviets directly by the Administration. Gold said this reasonable attitude would be clear from the legislative history of the Humphrey-Findley Bill and that perhaps this could be pointed out to the Soviets.

The Secretary said he thought the NCSJ’s policy of demonstrating flexibility was a good one. Holding out a carrot and showing that positive developments in the emigration field could produce movement in the future could be useful. While the Administration could not take too much of a forward position on the Bill, he said we would be glad to make the Soviets aware of the more flexible stance by American Jewish organizations on the CCC issue if Gold and Schindler wanted us to do so. Both felt this was a good idea and said they would stay in touch with the Department on this.

Goodman said the NCSJ appreciated what the Administration had done on the Shcharanskiy case and on the general Soviet Jewry issue. He noted, however, that although the emigration figures were up, the overall picture (i.e. harassment of Soviet Jews, arbitrary treatment, etc.) was more troubling. The level was now about 2,000 per month. Did we have any assurances that this would continue?

The Secretary said that he could not give such assurances. He had a “gut feeling” that the trend would continue, but nothing more than that. The Secretary said that if we get a SALT agreement with the Soviets this would improve the overall atmosphere considerably. SALT was the litmus test of the relationship. He said he thought we would have a good agreement eventually but that he could not predict when.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 9, Vance NODIS MemCons, 1978. Confidential; Nodis. Drafted by Levitsky on May 4; cleared by Luers, Derian, and Shulman; approved by Anderson on May 9. Levitsky initialed for Luers, Derian, and Shulman. The meeting took place in Vance’s office.