Sakharov Meets Gorbachev, Demands Prisoner Release
MOSCOW (AP) _ Human rights activist Andrei D. Sakharov met Kremlin leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev for the first ime Friday and gave him a list of 200 Soviets he said are still imprisoned for their views.
Gorbachev received the 66-year-old dissident and Nobel Peace Prize laureate along with about two dozen other members of the board of a new organization called the International Fund for the Survival of Humanity.
U.S. industrialist Armand Hammer, a board member and the fund’s biggest benefactor by way of a million-dollar gift, said Sakharov used the opportunity to draw Gorbachev’s attention to the plight of political prisoners.
Sakharov’s wife, Yelena Bonner, said by telephone later that those on the list include inmates in labor camps, prisons and psychiatric hospitals, and people forced to live in internal exile, as were she and her husband until Gorbachev let them return to Moscow in December 1986.
Since becoming Communist Party general secretary in March 1985, Gorbachev has been waging a campaign for ″glasnost,″ or openness, in discussing the nation’s problems.
But Friday’s meeting marked his first encounter with a dissident.
In its report on the meeting, the evening television news program ″Vremya″ identified Sakharov as one of the participants and briefly showed the balding physicist seated at the table and smiling.
The Tass news agency reported Sakharov’s comments to journalists later in which he praised Gorbachev as a ″dynamic leader″ and called for an early Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Tass did not report that Sakharov told reporters he favored a rapid Soviet pullout from Afghanistan ″without any conditions whatsoever.″ Neither Tass nor ″Vremya″ reported that Sakharov gave Gorbachev a list of Soviets he wanted freed.
The American ABC TV network quoted Hammer as saying Gorbachev told him: ″Tell your president that I am sincere in wanting to be out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, but I do not want a blodbath. The United States has told us that it will help us. What I want to know is, what kind of help?″
Sakharov has maintained a lower profile since returning from exile 13 months ago and has praised Gorbachev’s reform policies. But he continues to speak out against human rights violations and matters of Kremlin policy he disagrees with, such as the presence of 115,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan.
At a news conference to announce the formation of the international fund, Sakharov credited Gorbachev’s reforms with allowing independent, cooperative efforts to resolve problems facing mankind.
The new organization grew out of an international peace forum held in Moscow in February 1987.
Hammer, 89, said the Soviet leader was ″very respectful″ and listened attentively to Sakharov during the exchange in Gorbachev’s offices Friday.
Sakharov spoke with reporters about Gorbachev but declined to say what subjects he raised during the three-hour meeting in the Kremlin.
Sakharov is one of 30 board members for the fund, which was described at the news conference as a private research group that will study problems such as the arms race, pollution, poverty, hunger and human rights violations.
The founders said the group will work independently, using contributions from corporations and individuals to finance its work.
Soviet citizens rarely have been allowed to take part in private international organizations, but the fund appears to have official backing. The news conference was held at a Foreign Ministry hall, and prominent scientists Roald Sagdeyev and Yevgeny Velikhov are among the Soviet board members.
Sakharov and other board members told the news conference they considered questions about individual freedoms an important topic to investigate.
Asked after the news conference about his impressions of Gorbachev, Sakharov told reporters it was their first ″face-to-face″ encounter and the first time they had talked since Gorbachev called him in Gorky more than a year ago to say his seven-year exile would be ended.
″I have a great opinion of Gorbachev as a government figure and in personal terms,″ Sakharov said. ″I think this kind of leader is needed in a great country at such a decisive moment in history.″
Sakharov was asked at the news conference whether the fund would have unlimited access to government information, such as Kremlin defense spending.
″I think that we do not have unlimited access to secret information,″ Sakharov said. But he added that he thought the group would be provided with the details necessary to investigate questions on arms control.
Velikhov, vice president of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, said the board members don’t represent governments or the organizations they work for. The organization will have three centers: Moscow, Stockholm and Washington.
Sakharov was one of the nation’s most respected scientists until he began questioning the nuclear weapons he helped create and took up the cases of dissidents in the 1960s. His defense of human rights activists earned him the 1975 Nobel Peace Prize.
He eventually was stripped of most of his Soviet honors and privileges, and in January 1980 was exiled to the closed city of Gorky, 250 miles east of Moscow, for denouncing the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.