Shevardnadze Asks for U.S. Food to Ease Dire Shortage : Soviet Union: The White House indicates it will waive two measures to clear the way for such aid.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze, opening pre-summit talks with Secretary of State James A. Baker III, appealed Monday for U.S. food aid to help the Soviet Union cope with critical shortages.
In Washington, the White House indicated that President Bush is on the verge of granting a one-year waiver of two key congressional measures to clear the way for U.S. food credits and tariff reductions to aid the beleaguered Soviet economy.
Talking to reporters before the start of his meeting with Baker, Shevardnadze said the Soviet Union would appreciate U.S. assistance, “probably some food supplies.”
For months, the Bush Administration has said that it would consider assistance to Moscow only if the Soviet government specifically requested it.
A Soviet official said later that Shevardnadze made no specific requests for aid during his private meeting with Baker.
However, the official said, “we do have a problem on food supply in our country. If any help would alleviate that we can only appreciate that.”
Despite his appeal for food, however, White House officials said that the United States is more likely to send medical supplies than food parcels.
The United States has been very slow in responding to the Soviet Union’s winter of shortages. Western European nations, led by Germany, have already sent tons of food and other aid.
If Bush decides to help, the Administration would urge private humanitarian agencies, such as Red Cross America, to help the Soviets with medical supplies, a White House aide said.
In the case of food, the Administration appears on the verge of waiving the Jackson-Vanik Amendment and the companion Stevenson Amendment, which for 15 years have barred U.S. trade and credit concessions unless the Soviets liberalized emigration practices. Jackson-Vanik was an amendment to the Trade Act of 1974 and Stevenson an amendment to the Export-Import Bank authorization bill of the same year.
Soviet emigration of Jews and others is double the threshold rate of 60,000 a year, at which waivers were to be granted.
New Soviet emigration laws have not yet been passed, however, and the Administration, which made the passage of those laws a condition of the Jackson-Vanik waiver, is still reluctant to act, although major Jewish groups favor doing so.
After Shevardnadze’s statement, indications are that Bush will waive the two amendments on a limited basis, for perhaps a year.
Lifting Jackson-Vanik would end the discriminatory tariffs put on imports from the Soviet Union. The Stevenson Amendment, which limits export credits for grain purchases (through the Commodity Credit Corp. and other such agencies) to $300 million, would apply more directly to food aid. Lifting it could provide a way for the Soviets to buy grain from American farmers.
Baker brought Shevardnadze to Houston, his hometown, for talks designed to prepare the way for a summit meeting early next year in Moscow between Bush and Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.
The most important item of unfinished business is completion of a treaty to cut the superpower arsenals of long-range nuclear weapons by more than one-third. Bush and Gorbachev have said they will schedule their summit as soon as a strategic arms reduction treaty is ready for signature. U.S. officials say the pact is about 95% complete but that some important differences remain.
U.S. and Soviet officials said Baker and Shevardnadze concentrated on arms control throughout their 3 1/2- hour afternoon session.
The officials declined to discuss specifics. But the Soviet official quoted a more senior member of the Soviet delegation as saying, “Bridges are being built.”
“That sounded like progess to me,” the Soviet official said.
Talk of arms control, the staple of U.S.-Soviet diplomacy during the Cold War, seems almost out of place in the current era of good feeling between Washington and Moscow. The onetime rivals find themselves on the same side in the Persian Gulf crisis, and officials on both sides are trying to minimize remaining areas of friction.
The Soviet official said that Shevardnadze supported Baker’s refusal to visit Baghdad just three days before the Jan. 15 U.N. Security Council deadline for Iraq to get out of Kuwait. The official said Moscow endorses Baker’s insistence that the trip take place no later than Jan. 3.
The U.S. official said Iraq has not yet responded to the U.S. position on dates.
Baker on Sunday accused Iraq of stalling because of its suggestion of a Jan. 12 date for Baker’s trip to Baghdad.
Times staff writer Robert Toth in Washington contributed to this story.