Reagan Talks Hailed in Gulag --Shcharansky

Times Staff Writers

Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky said Tuesday that he told President Reagan during a half-hour White House meeting that the President’s hard-line anti-Communist speeches were so popular with the inmates of Soviet forced labor camps that snippets of news about them were secretly communicated from cell to cell.

Shcharansky, 38, who was released Feb. 11 after nine years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, said that prisoners usually learned of Reagan’s tough rhetoric through accounts in the Soviet press intended to inflame the public against the President. But he said the news had the opposite effect among the prisoners in the camp system known as the gulag.

Shcharansky, speaking in English, told a press conference that he urged Reagan to keep a fine point on his anti-Soviet rhetoric and to keep alive the controversy about the fate of Soviet Jews who have been denied permission to emigrate.


Appeals to Congress

Earlier, at a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, Shcharansky urged Congress to retain the Jackson-Vanik legislation that for more than a decade has prohibited U.S. trade preferences to the Soviet Union unless Moscow eases its emigration policies.

He thanked lawmakers for their support during the years of his ordeal and urged them to continue pressing for freedom for other Jewish dissidents in the Soviet Union.

At his meeting with Reagan, Shcharansky said, “I told the President how important was the fact of all his activity--all his speeches.”

He said that news of Reagan speeches was passed from prisoner to prisoner, despite camp rules against such activity. “There are ways of communicating in the cells, even the punishment cells,” he said.

‘Fate Is in His Hands’

“The fate of 400,000 Soviet Jews to a very great extent is in his hands,” Shcharansky said. “He is the President who can make the Soviet Union open the gates.”

He said Reagan could do that by telling Moscow that the price of any improvements in superpower relations would be freedom for Soviet Jews. He said Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev knows that Moscow needs Western technology to solve its pressing economic problems.

Although Shcharansky won wild cheers from hundreds of lawmakers, congressional staff members and other admirers who turned out for the Capitol Hill ceremony, he received no new commitments either from Congress or the Administration.

‘Reaffirmed Determination’

White House spokesman Larry Speakes said that Reagan “reaffirmed his determination to do everything possible to help those who have been denied the right to emigrate, practice their religion or maintain their Jewish identity.”

Despite the “evil empire” rhetoric that Shcharansky so admired, however, Reagan said he plans to use “quiet diplomacy"--not public pressure--to urge the Soviets to improve their human rights record.

When asked by a reporter if a low-key policy was sufficient to achieve the goals that he and Shcharansky share, Reagan replied: “It will do for now.”

Shcharansky made it clear he does not agree. “Quiet diplomacy, from my point of view, can help only if it is supported by strong public pressure,” he said.

Nevertheless, at the press conference, Shcharansky avoided a public disagreement with the White House.

“We sit in different chairs,” he said. “He is the President of the United States of America, and I am . . . an ordinary citizen of the state of Israel.”

At the Capitol ceremony, Shcharansky, standing on a box so that his 5-foot, 2-inch frame could be seen above the police and security officials gathered to protect him, called members of Congress his “accomplices.” He recalled how Soviet authorities used congressional testimony supporting him as trumped-up evidence before sending him to prison.

“All those documents were used during my trial as proof of my treason,” he said.

Shcharansky said it was not until after he was allowed to emigrate to Israel in February that he learned that congressional pressure for his release had mounted over the years.

“I was pleased to learn my accomplices did not abandon me,” he said.

‘Supreme Dedication’

Only Monday, lawmakers passed and sent to Reagan legislation authorizing congressional gold medals for Shcharansky and his wife, Avital, “in recognition of their supreme dedication and commitment to the cause of individual human rights and freedom.”

Congressional leaders echoed Shcharansky’s call for more pressure against the Soviets to release dissidents.

In remarks at the ceremony, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) called Shcharansky “an authentic hero” but cautioned: “In celebrating his release, we also shine the light on thousands of others who remain imprisoned by a godless state. . . . We point an accusing finger at a system of truancy, pledged to stamp out Jewish culture.”

Fragile Liberties

House Speaker Thomas P. (Tip) O'Neill Jr. (D-Mass.) said Shcharansky’s treatment serves as a reminder that liberties Americans take for granted “are as fragile today as they were nearly 200 years ago when our Constitution was being written.”

O'Neill said that Senate and House leaders from both parties met before the ceremony and pledged to redouble efforts to win freedom for Soviet Jews.

“We pledged that success in winning the release of Anatoly Shcharansky is proof that we need to do much more, not proof that we have done enough,” O'Neill said.