140. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Jewry and Related Events


  • Eugene Gold, Chairman, National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ)
  • Jerry Goodman, Executive Director, NCSJ
  • Marina Wallach, Washington Representative, NCSJ
  • Rabbi Alexander Schindler, President, Union of American Jewish Organizations
  • Yehuda Hellman, Executive Director, Conference of Presidents
  • Charlotte Jacobson, Vice President, Zionist Organization of America
  • Jacqueline Levine, Vice Chairman, American Jewish Congress
  • Joseph Smukler, Vice Chairman, NCSJ
  • Sol Goldstein, Officer, NSCJ
  • Mr. Levine, Conservative Movement
  • The Secretary
  • Dr. Marshall Shulman, Special Adviser to the Secretary for Soviet Affairs
  • Edward Sanders, Senior Advisor
  • William H. Luers, Deputy Assistant Secretary, EUR
  • Robert W. Farrand, EUR/SOV (Bilateral) (Notetaker)

Gold expressed thanks for the opportunity to meet with the Secretary and for his frank and open comments on earlier occasions. Gold said he and his colleagues felt comfortable talking to the Secretary about what was happening to Jews in the Soviet Union. He noted that there seemed to be a marked increase recently in the signs of pressure being exerted by the Soviets on their Jewish citizenry. The internal situation was being exacerbated, Gold said, by pointed reports of Jewish criminal activity in the Soviet press. The media play was having its inevitable effect on the Soviet populace. Anti-Semitism in the USSR seemed definitely on the rise with the seeds already planted in fertile soil.

From Gold’s and his colleagues’ vantage point, the rumors of anti-Semitic activity in the USSR were spreading rapidly and the picture seemed to be “crystallizing” in an ugly way. For example, Gold said the day may not be far distant when the Soviets move to shut down emigration of Jewish persons altogether.

[Page 443]

The Shcharanskiy case was also a particular problem about which something concrete needed to be done. Shcharanskiy was now among the many “Prisoners of Zion” in the USSR. Gold commended the Secretary for his and the President’s statements in the wake of Shcharanskiy’s trial. But, frankly, there was concern among the US Jewish community that these statements were meant to be the “fundamental response” on this unfortunate case. The President’s decision to reject the license application for sale of a computer to TASS (the Soviet News Agency) was fine but Gold questioned whether enough spade work had been done before the Dresser (drill bit) plant decision had been taken.2 First the President had said the entire license was under review, then “bang” it was approved. Gold understood that there was still some controversy within the Government about the Dresser decision and wondered whether it could still be held up.

The Secretary told Gold that the letter authorizing Dresser to sell the equipment in question to the Soviets had already been transmitted.

Gold asked the Secretary what he could say about the present situation in the USSR. He was specifically interested in the “replists” (Note: These are lists containing names of Soviet Jews and others who have been trying unsuccessfully to emigrate from the USSR over long periods of time. The representation lists are compiled by the State Department and presented periodically to the Soviets by high level US officials.)

The Secretary asked about the ground rules for the meeting. He said that he could be much more open and frank off-the-record and would prefer it that way. Gold and his colleagues agreed and the conversation went off the record.

The Secretary said that he shared his visitors’ concern about where Soviet Jewry was headed. He said that there was certainly enough happening to justify their fears. He was not sure, however, that these fears would necessarily materialize in the manner or with the speed that Gold had indicated.

As regarded Shcharanskiy, the Secretary said that in addition to both his and the President’s speaking out on the matter, there had also been a large number of times when the case had been raised with the Soviets in other ways. The point was that Shcharanskiy had not been forgotten. The Secretary did not want—even off the record—to say [Page 444] more about what was being done now on Shcharanskiy’s behalf. He had, however, met with Mrs. (Avital) Shcharanskiy in Geneva recently and she had been helpful in advising the Secretary on her husband’s situation.

On the “refusenik” question, the Secretary told Gold we had been presenting the replists to the Soviets on every suitable occasion and will continue to do so.

As regarded Mr. Gold’s comments to the effect that there had been little affirmative action on all of these matters recently, the Secretary said he would have to disagree with that assessment. The President and he had talked about Shcharanskiy to other heads of government after the recent Bonn Summit.3 Unfortunately, it had not then been possible to agree on a common statement. They simply had been unable to do it. Some governments had their own problems with the Soviets which precluded their taking a strong public position on the Shcharanskiy trial. For example, the Germans had finally been successful after many years in convincing the Soviets to permit thousands of German-speaking people to emigrate from the USSR. The German Government was thus chary about joining in a common statement condemning the Shcharanskiy trial for fear that the Soviets might retaliate by shutting off the flow of German emigrants. And different countries had different problems with the idea of a common statement because of their own relationships with the USSR.

Insofar as the future was concerned, the Secretary said that he continued to watch the figures on emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union. In these he had detected a strange pattern in recent months. He noted that thus far this year the number of Soviet Jews allowed to emigrate has been higher than in any year since 1972–73.

With respect to the dissidents, it seemed as though the Soviet Government had decided to run right down the list and hit each dissident hard. The Secretary asked Ambassador Shulman to give his views on the dissident trials. The Ambassador said that the Soviets apparently made a decision at the beginning of this year to clean up the dissident movement. By sending some of the leading dissidents out of the country, an act which left the rest in disarray, the Soviets seemingly hoped to clear out the nests of dissidence and put a stop to the problem once and for all. They probably also took a look at the first quarter (1978) trade statistics with the US which were off notably from the same period a year ago, and decided they had nothing to lose in trade by moving against the dissidents at this time.

[Page 445]

The Secretary stated that we had three different sets of trials in the USSR to be concerned about. These were: 1) the trials of Soviet dissidents, 2) the slander charges against two American journalists, Piper and Whitney (of the Baltimore Sun and New York Times, respectively),4 and 3) the upcoming trial of a US businessman (Francis J. Crawford) of International Harvester Corporation.5 As to why these cases were all occurring right now, Ambassador Shulman added to his remarks about the dissident trials and noted that the Soviet Government seemed to have miscalculated that the negative impact in the West would soon dissipate, based on their experience with the invasion of Czechoslovakia ten years ago.6 Communists in Western Europe and elsewhere outside of the USSR and Eastern Europe had also reacted negatively to the dissident trials just as they had over Soviet actions in Czechoslovakia. The trials merely helped to feed the line about the dictatorial aspects of Soviet communism. This, in the Ambassador’s view, would be a continuing problem for the Soviets. Our problem, however, was how to move along in our relations with them by providing a balance of incentives and disincentives so as to influence their behavior. With respect to the dissidents, we hoped to be able to manipulate the situation so that other elements of the Soviet Government would begin to hurt and eventually move to restrain the KGB.

The Secretary added that it was apparent from the charges against Whitney and Piper that the Soviets hoped to cut off the access of Western journalists to the dissident community, but it clearly hadn’t worked.

Gold asked about the Helsinki Final Act and the review session in Belgrade. Did these not have a role to play in our efforts to bring pressure on the Soviets? Ambassador Shulman responded that in the case of Belgrade the Soviets saw it as an unmitigated disaster from the outset and refused to go along with most of the major initiatives there. Gold wondered about the rest of the “baskets” (apparently in addition to Basket III) and whether there was not more utility in talking about the Final Act as a whole when discussing it with the Soviets.

The Secretary said that in Belgrade we gave more emphasis to Basket III, while the Soviets concentrated their attention on Baskets I and II. We held throughout the Belgrade session that all Baskets should be included in the discussion as a connected whole. Views, even among [Page 446] our own delegation, however, differed on whether we gave too much emphasis to Basket III at the expense of the others.

Dr. Shulman stated that we wanted to encourage the Soviets to keep the numbers of Soviet Jews being allowed to emigrate going up. What, he asked, could the U.S. Jewish Community do or suggest to keep those numbers rising? Gold responded that he did not think there was much more the U.S. Jewish community could do than it was already doing. The Secretary agreed with Gold that little more could be expected from the U.S. Jewish community by way of action on this issue.

Hellman asked whether we might not be able to use trade as a better carrot in our attempts at influencing the Soviets. The Secretary replied that the problem was that other countries had the same carrot. In the case of the Dresser license, for example, some thought that Dresser was the sole source of (drill bit) technology, but that was simply not true. Others could sell this (drill bit) technology to the Soviets as well.

Hellman then raised the subject of credits. He noted that they were perhaps a useful avenue for applying leverage on the Soviets.

Mr. Levine (Conservative Movement) said that he saw a contradiction in what was being said on the subject of “carrots.” Clearly, in his view, we had none. He questioned whether we should try to buy the Soviets with concessions, anyway. Would it not be more effective and true to our principles to strive to become a bastion of human liberty? It seemed to him that that would be the simplest and best approach. He also wondered why we had lumped the dissidents in with the “refuseniks.” Did not that needlessly complicate matters, especially since we were dealing with two different approaches to the problems of Soviet Jews?

Ambassador Shulman replied that Shcharanskiy was both a dissident and a “refusenik” and thus a connection between the two groups. We even had difficulty differentiating between Jews and non-Jews in many instances. In any case, the problem we faced was much more than a Jewish question alone. The Secretary said he agreed with Dr. Shulman. The Secretary said that we ought to act on behalf of, defend and argue for each group and sub-group which was having trouble either living in or leaving the Soviet Union. The Secretary wondered what one gained by making clear demarcations between these groups. To this Mr. Gold replied that the Germans had apparently done very well at it. Gold conceded that by making a clear demarcation between groups we risked doing less well overall, but perhaps certain sub-groups would do even better than they otherwise might were they lumped in to the whole. Gold thought that it was important to speak out toughly for each group.

[Page 447]

Sol Goldstein asked for the Secretary’s views on the Moscow Olympic Games in 1980. He said there was great concern and worry about what might happen to Jewish spectators and participants. He wondered whether the Soviets might not harass would-be Jewish emigrants before and during the Games. What if Jewish participants from the United States were excluded. The Secretary said that we are discussing some of these issues with other countries but that it was not yet clear what actions might be taken to reduce the fears which Mr. Goldstein expressed. He asked that any questions of this nature on the Olympic Games be referred to Dr. Shulman in future, since the Ambassador would be monitoring our review of the problem.

Ms. Jacqueline Levine raised again the question of trade and requested a clarification on whether the Secretary had said that there was no leverage in trade. The Secretary replied that he felt there was very limited leverage in trade; he had not said that there was no leverage at all. Ms. Levine asked how we could creatively come up with new ideas. The Secretary said that he would be very grateful to receive any new ideas on levers to use in dealing with the Soviets.

Gold said that during the group’s last meeting7 with the Secretary there had been discussion of Embassy Moscow’s current policy on contact between Embassy personnel and Soviet Jews. He also indicated that he had heard the Embassy had now been effectively closed to Soviet Jews. He wondered what the Secretary could say about Ambassador Toon’s policy regarding contacts, specifically, with Jewish dissidents. The Secretary referred this question to Mr. Luers who said that Ambassador Toon had not restricted contacts between Embassy personnel and Soviet Jewish dissidents. The Ambassador had merely institutionalized procedures for approving such contacts within the Embassy and had defined which staff members—principally those who were knowledgeable about the problems Jewish and other dissidents face in the USSR—would be able to meet with them.

Ms. Levine inquired about reports that the Soviets intended to cut off all exit visas on January 1, 1979. Luers replied that a notice on the bulletin board of one OVIR (Office of Soviet police which is responsible for approving exit visas) had been spotted which reportedly carried a message to this effect. But there has been no official confirmation that this is, in fact, a new country-wide policy. We had heard nothing more on the rumor and therefore assume that it has no foundation in fact.

The Secretary concluded the meeting by saying that he wished we had better leverage on all of these issues. He wanted to emphasize, however, that our resolve and efforts to work on all of these problems [Page 448] and, especially, to see an increase in the emigration of Soviet Jews would continue.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Special Adviser to the Secretary (S/MS) on Soviet Affairs Marshall Shulman—Jan 21, 77–Jan 19, 81, Lot 81D109, Box 2, Memorandums of Conversation, 1978. Confidential. Drafted by Robert W. Farrand (EUR/SOV) on August 18; cleared by Luers, Shulman, Shinn, and Ed Sanders (S); approved by Frank Wisner (S/S) on September 28. The meeting took place in Vance’s conference room at the Department of State.
  2. In June 1978, Soviet trade organizations awarded Dresser Industries, Inc., two major contracts totaling $180 million. One of these supplied the Soviets with equipment and technology to be used in manufacturing bits for the drilling of oil and gas wells. (“Company Roundup: Soviet Awards Dresser $180 Million Contracts,” The New York Times, June 2, 1978, p. D5) In August, the Carter administration approved the export license for that sale. (Telegram 203480 to Moscow, August 11; National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, D780329–0069)
  3. See footnote 1, Document 136.
  4. See footnote 2, Document 129.
  5. See footnote 5, Document 133. For more information on Crawford’s arrest and trial, see E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., “An Arrest in Moscow: What’s at Stake for U.S. Business,” The Washington Post, August 9, 1978, p. A23; and Kevin Klose, “Soviets Asking Suspended Term for Crawford,” The Washington Post, September 7, 1978, p. A1.
  6. Reference is to the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. See Foreign Relations, 1964–1968, vol. XVII, Eastern Europe, Document 85.
  7. See Document 105.