The Soviet Union has permitted a sharp increase in the number of Jews allowed to leave the country during the last few weeks, possibly in response to U.S. assertions that freer emigration is critical to improved Washington-Moscow relations, Secretary of State George P. Shultz said Tuesday.
"We have told the Soviets, time and time again, that significant, sustained progress on emigration is critical to improving our relations in other areas," said Shultz, who is scheduled to visit Moscow next month for talks with Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze that are expected to focus on arms control.
"The Soviets may be beginning to understand that our commitment to this issue is not only a cornerstone of the approach of this President and this Administration, but that it commands the broadest bipartisan support in the Congress," he said.
State Department spokesman Charles Redman said that 214 Jews were permitted to emigrate during the first half of this month, almost a quarter of the number allowed to leave during all of last year.
Redman said that Jewish emigrants totaled 98 in January and 146 in February, bringing the total for the first 10 weeks of this year to 458. Last year, the average monthly total was 75 and the highest monthly total 126.
Washington Not Satisfied
However, Shultz said that Washington is far from satisfied with the level of emigration, despite the recent increases, because it follows "a dismal backdrop of six years of very low emigration."
"We are under no illusions that this modest rise represents a revolution in Soviet emigration policy," he said.
Shultz spoke to leaders of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith after they gave him a book listing 11,000 Soviet Jews who it said have been refused permission to emigrate.
As a general rule, Soviet citizens, regardless of religion, are not allowed to emigrate. Exceptions can be made, however, to reunite families, a provision that is often cited by Jews seeking to leave.
Shultz implied that the United States is pressing the Soviet Union to broaden its emigration criteria.
Freedom of Movement
"We have made clear to the Soviets that, while family reunification is vitally important, there is also a right to freedom of movement, which applies whether or not someone has relatives in another country," he said.
Meanwhile, mid-level U.S. and Soviet delegations were meeting at the State Department to consider a variety of bilateral issues including human rights, consular issues and the staffing of embassies and consulates in each country. The talks, which began Monday, are expected to last all week.
Although such meetings are conducted regularly, the current session has generated greater interest because it precedes by only three weeks the scheduled April 13-16 meeting between Shultz and Shevardnadze.
Redman said that the two delegations are expected to discuss the staffing of Soviet delegations to the United Nations. But he said Moscow already is in compliance with orders to reduce by April 1 the staff of its U.N. missions in New York to 221.
A year ago, the United States, accusing the Soviet Union of using its U.N. missions as a cover for espionage, ordered Moscow to reduce its presence in New York from 275 to 170 staff members by April 1, 1988. Intermediate deadlines were invoked every six months.