25. Memorandum of Conversation1


  • Soviet Jewry and Secretary’s Trip to Moscow


  • The Secretary
  • Eugene Gold, Chairman, National Conference on Soviet Jewry (NCSJ)
  • Rabbi Alexander Schindler, Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations
  • Yehuda Hellman, Executive Director, Conference of Presidents
  • Jerry Goodman, Executive Director, NCSJ
  • Dr. Marshall Shulman, Special Consultant
  • Arthur A. Hartman, Assistant Secretary for European Affairs
  • Leonard F. Willems, EUR:SOV (notetaker)

SUMMARY: The Secretary met with leaders of two major American Jewish organizations concerned with Soviet Jewry to report to [Page 122] them on his recent trip to Moscow2 with regard to matters concerning Soviet Jewry. He had met with the same group prior to the trip on March 24.3 At the April 8 meeting he told them he had given Gromyko a list of Soviet Jews refused exit visas for Israel as well as the US Exit Visa Representation List.4 He had not presented any list of prisoners, or raised any individual cases. During the visit the Soviets were told that what happens with regard to Soviet-American trade will be affected by what happens in arms control and emigration. The “drop-out” phenomenon of Soviet emigrants to Israel not going to Israel did not come up in any way during the visit. The Secretary described the Soviets’ sensitivity about the coming Belgrade CSCE Conference. He said there had been a general review of the Middle East, and Gromyko had confirmed to him that the Soviets had not changed their positions. The Jewish organizations leaders seemed genuinely very appreciative of the Secretary’s efforts on behalf of Soviet Jewry. END SUMMARY.

Moscow Trip

Secretary Vance reported that he had personally delivered to Foreign Minister Gromyko both the US Government Exit Visa Representation List of Soviet citizens refused exit visas to join relatives in the United States, and a list of Soviet Jews refused exit visas for Israel. Gromyko received the lists and indicated he would look into the matter, but made no promises. Gromyko had accepted them, though, and not rejected them. The Secretary had not felt it advisable to present any lists of prisoners. He had discussed in general terms with Gromyko the effect of the emigration issue on our bilateral relations, but could not predict what would happen in the emigration area in the future. The Secretary said his guess was that the Soviets will act with a degree of caution. It had been made clear to the Soviets that what happens with regard to trade will be affected by what happens or does not happen in arms control and emigration.

Schindler asked whether the Soviets linked the human rights and emigration issues. The Secretary replied that at the first meeting Brezhnev read a long paper admonishing the US on the human rights issue. The Secretary said he had responded that we were from different societies and different systems with different values which produced some inevitable conflicts, but we were not focusing any attack on the USSR in our human rights efforts, which reflect universal principles. After that exchange at the first meeting, human rights had not been dis[Page 123]cussed at the formal sessions, but the subject had come up in the private talks.

Schindler asked whether the Soviets had given any indication of distinguishing between direct emigration to the US and emigration to Israel, and the Secretary replied, “No”.


Schindler asked whether they had given any clues about the apparent upsurge in anti-Semitism, and the Secretary said there had been “no clues”. Shulman commented that it was questionable how much recent developments were caused by anti-Semitism and how much they reflected suppression of dissidents. He was inclined to doubt they were caused by anti-Semitism. Goodman replied that Soviet Jews see it as anti-Semitism. For example, the anti-Semitic television film “Traders of Souls” has been shown on national television twice. Shulman said anti-Semitism is a latent phenomenon which surfaces from time to time in Russia. He cited as an example of official anti-Semitism the fact that two years ago Academy of Sciences institutes had been directed by the Academy Presidium to refer all decisions to employ Jews to the Academy Presidium. Quotas for Jews had existed sporadically in the past in some Academy of Sciences institutes, but had never been applied across-the-board until the decree two years ago. Gold and Goodman noted that Jewish quotas had also been instituted in certain university faculties. Shulman agreed that was true, at Moscow State University for example. Gold noted that imposition of such Jewish quotas encourages Jewish emigration. Shulman agreed, but pointed out that the quotas are also an effect of Jewish emigration. Shulman and the Jewish leaders agreed it was a cause-and-effect, self-reenforcing phenomenon.


Goodman asked the Secretary to elaborate on his earlier comment that in Moscow he had told the Soviets that progress in trade would be related to progress in SALT and emigration. The Secretary said the Soviets had been told that all were related in the eyes of the American people. He said the Soviets did not respond directly to that idea. They had countered that the US Government promised them MFN and then reneged. The Secretary said he had pointed out to the Soviets that as practical people they must take into account the trade-and-emigration connection, recognizing that Jackson-Vanik is an enacted statute.5 To remove the statute there must be progress in the emigration area.

[Page 124]

Drop Outs

Alluding to their March 24 meeting, Gold mentioned the “drop-out” phenomenon (i.e., the high rate of Soviet Jews who leave the USSR with exit visas for Israel but settle in the US and other third countries instead of proceeding to Israel). Shulman interjected that he hoped the American Jewish organizations would not put emigrants in a straight-jacket which would compel them to go to Israel. It is important the emigrants be given a choice. So far the American people were responding very well to Soviet emigration and assisting and welcoming Soviet emigrants. For example, Mrs. Shulman works for the Council on Emigrés in the Professions, trying to raise funds to assist and place Soviet emigrant professionals. Gold and Schindler asked what the Secretary thought was the potential impact of the drop-out phenomenon—what he sensed in Moscow was the Soviet reaction.

The Secretary and Shulman indicated the drop-out phenomenon had not come up in any way during the Moscow trip. Schindler said all American Jews want to get as many Jews as possible out of the USSR, but there are signs the Soviets are manipulating the emigration flow to increase the drop-out rate, by increasing the proportion of urban Jews and professionals who tend to drop out. Schindler asked whether the Soviets discuss the drop-out rate in the CSCE context. Hartman answered that they sometimes cite it as a debating point.

Belgrade Conference

The Secretary noted that the Soviets are very sensitive about the approaching Belgrade CSCE Conference. They are very concerned, and fear a confrontation. During the Moscow visit the Secretary had discussed Belgrade in general terms with Gromyko. The Secretary had told Gromyko that we were not seeking a confrontation. Our position is that the Conference will be to review the progress or lack of progress in implementation of the Final Act, rather than to consider new proposals as the Soviets would prefer. Hartman commented that the Soviets would try to have only brief discussion of implementation, preferably outside the human rights area. The Secretary commented that the Soviets always ask why we emphasize Basket III.6

Gold asked whether the Secretary shared the concern of some observers, including some on the Hill, that if we take a strong position at Belgrade the Soviets might walk out. “Or downgrade the Conference”, Goodman suggested. The Secretary observed that the Soviets would like to downgrade the Conference if they could, but that would be hard to do. Hartman noted that the level of representation for the Belgrade [Page 125] Conference—below the Foreign Minister—was specified in the Final Act. All the European countries have agreed that representation should be just below the Foreign Minister.

Secretary Vance said that he had established a group to deal with the Belgrade Conference, and named Warren Christopher as Chairman. Schindler asked whether Jewish organizations should direct information about non-compliance to Christopher. The Secretary replied that such material could be directed to Christopher or Hartman. Gold commented that the NCSJ had been sending such information to Congressman Fascell7 as Chairman of the CSCE Commission. The Secretary and Hartman commented that the Department receives information from the Commission, so sending it to Congressman Fascell was an acceptable way to forward it. The Secretary commented that the Department is trying to work closer with Congressman Fascell’s Commission. Gold commented that Fascell and Spencer Oliver8 feel they have a good relationship with the Department under the new Administration.

Middle East

Schindler asked what had been said about the Middle East during the Moscow trip. The Secretary said the Soviets had stressed the importance of their position as Co-Chairman of the Geneva Conference. There has been no change in the Soviet position. The newspapers misrepresented Gromyko’s brief comments about the PLO during a toast. The Secretary specifically asked Gromyko whether there was any change in their position, and Gromyko replied that there was not. Gold commented that the April 8 newspaper photos of Brezhnev and Arafat embracing showed there had been no change. The Secretary said there had been a general review of the Middle East issues during the Moscow visit. He said he believed the Soviets could not affect the substance of any settlement but could be spoilers. For that reason it is essential not to humiliate them or cause them to lose face. If they are allowed to continue to carry out their role as Co-Chairman they are less likely “to throw a spanner in the works”.


Turning back to the subject of Soviet-American trade, Goodman and Gold cited a recent Washington Post article about the need of the East to convert to Western technology through trade. They asked the Secretary if he thought there was anything they should do as a community or Conference in the trade area. They observed that the Soviets’ [Page 126] main objective in trade seemed to be the acquisition of Western technology.

The Secretary commented that Shulman had been telling him that for months. Shulman observed that the Department of Commerce has an advisory committee on East-West trade. The meetings are open, and the NCSJ could attend. There will be a meeting in May or June.

Secretary Vance commented that there is also a Joint Economic Committee chaired by Treasury. Shulman said that technology transfer will become a more prominent issue. There is sharp division of opinion within industry over this issue. Hartman observed that technology transfer is only an issue in the very advanced high technology areas, not in other areas of Soviet-American trade.

Individual Cases

Goodman asked if any specific cases such as Anatoliy Shcharanskiy had been raised in Moscow, and whether there had been any feedback. The Secretary indicated that specific cases had not been discussed. Gold and Goodman reported that the NCSJ had just received word that Naum Salanskiy9 had been told he may leave the USSR. Hellman asked whether Shcharanskiy’s case will be raised. Gold suggested that perhaps Ambassador Toon could raise it. The Secretary replied that he had thought about that, but was not sure such a representation would be a help or a hindrance to Shcharanskiy. Shulman indicated he shared the Secretary’s doubts. He commented that he thought it was probably helpful for the Jewish organizations to continue to publicize the case.

The Secretary said he thought it better for the Department to advance the causes of the dissidents and Soviet Jewry in general terms rather than by raising specific cases. With regard to cases such as Shcharanskiy, Yuriy Orlov and Aleksandr Ginzburg, Shulman saw three general approaches open to the Soviets—1) crack down; 2) to mend their relations with the US, take favorable action in symbolic cases; and 3) take a mixed approach as with Dr. Shtern and Shcharanskiy10—arrest some while letting others out. Shulman said he thought the third was more likely. Shulman continued that he thought it would be easier for the Soviets to let Shcharanskiy out rather than try him, but easier for them to try Ginzburg. In that case they have specific charges involving currency transgressions.

[Page 127]

Gold commented that interpreting the Soviet situation is fascinating business. Shulman observed that it is not a science.

The Secretary said he hoped the Administration’s efforts in these areas help. Gold said he agreed completely with the Secretary’s approach, and described the Secretary’s efforts as “marvelous”.

Goodman asked if there would be any follow-up on the lists presented in Moscow.

The Secretary replied that he personally follows up on such matters from time to time, usually with Ambassador Dobrynin.

The visitors thanked the Secretary for the meeting and for his efforts on behalf of Soviet Jews.

  1. Source: Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, Vance NODIS MemCons, 1977. Confidential; Nodis. Drafted by Leonard F. Willems (EUR/SOV) on April 11; cleared in draft by Shulman; approved by Twaddell on April 19. Willems initialed for Schulman. The meeting took place in Vance’s office.
  2. See Documents 1723.
  3. The memorandum of conversation from the March 24 meeting is in the Department of State, Office of the Secretariat Staff, Cyrus R. Vance, Secretary of State—1977–1980, Lot 84D241, Box 10, NODIS Memcons, 1977.
  4. See Document 22
  5. See footnote 2, Document 22.
  6. See footnote 9, Document 21.
  7. Representative Dante Bruno Fascell (D-Florida).
  8. Chief Counsel of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs from 1976.
  9. Soviet physicist.
  10. Reference is to Mikhail Shtern, a refusenik released from a Soviet prison in mid-March 1977, about the same time Anatoli Shcharanskiy, a Soviet dissident, was imprisoned.