US Ethnic Groups See Hope in Baker-Shevardnadze Talks With AM-US-Soviet, Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Many American ethnic groups see the U.S.-Soviet meeting this week as a means of seizing on Kremlin reforms and on Wednesday were lobbying for Baltic independence, free emigration for Jews and permission for Eskimos to visit distant Soviet kin.
Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze are expected to sign an agreement on Saturday that will shatter the so-called ″Ice Curtain″ that has divided the Yupik and Inupiat Eskimos of Siberia and Alaska since the Kremlin forbade travel across the Bering Strait in 1948, administration and congressional sources said.
″The Arctic winds that pass through are becoming warmer, beckoning others to join in chipping away at the ice curtain,″ said Sen. Frank Murkowski, R- Alaska, hailing the promised agreement.
The well-being of other ethnic groups in the Soviet Union is far less certain, and Jewish and Baltic organizations were pressuring the Bush administration to use the Baker-Shevardnadze session to discuss many of the same issues dealt with at a stormy Communist Party meeting that ended Wednesday in Moscow.
The meeting passed a resolution calling on Soviet ethnic groups, including the Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians of the Baltic Republics, to curb their demands for political independence in return for greater economic autonomy.
The United States never has recognized the Soviet annexation of the Baltic republics at the close of World War II, and on Tuesday Baker advanced that policy a step further by urging independence for those people.
″It’s been the position of the United States for some time that we do not recognize the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union,″ Baker said.
″We do not seek to foster, nor would we profit from, instability in the Soviet Union. So we’d like to see a peaceful move toward independence for the Baltic states,″ Baker told a news conference.
Vice President Dan Quayle signaled a more outspoken White House stance on the Baltic in a Cable News Network interview on Sept. 9.
″Clearly, every event triggers a response. And if there’s a negative event toward the Baltic states, I would imagine there would be a negative response,″ Quayle said. Neither he nor other administration officials have specified what steps they would take if the Kremlin cracks down.
Some members of Congress and Baltic-American activists in the United States welcomed the remarks by Quayle and Baker.
″I see this as a step. I think that circumstances have forced the Bush administration to take a stand. I don’t think they could afford to remain silent any more,″ said Viktor Nakas, a spokesman for the Lithuanian Information Center, an emigre group in Washington.
A bipartisan group of 24 senators, headed by Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., and Don W. Riegle, D-Mich., sent a public letter to Baker Wednesday saying that ″the vice president’s recent statements to the press in support of the Baltic peoples’ struggle for independence must be reemphasized in face-to-face meetings with Soviet officials″ including Shevardnadze.
The administration also came under some pressure, and some applause, this week from the National Conference on Soviet Jewry, which pointedly met in Washington on Tuesday.
″It looks as if most Jews who want to leave the Soviet Union may now leave,″ Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger told the conference.
″That does not mean we are dropping the refusenik cases that are still unresolved. We will continue to work on them until every single case in which an emigrant permit is unjustly denied has been satisfactorily resolved,″ he said, stressing that the issue would be raised at the meeting this week. The Jewish group, in response, endorsed a Bush administration plan to shift to the U.S. consulate in Moscow the job of screening of Soviets seeking to emigrate to the United States. The change is needed to cope with the rapid rise in emigration, which promises to top the record level set in 1979.