Letter to Obama: Don’t repeal Jackson Vanick!

Lara Iglitzin, executive director of the Henry M. Jackson Foundation, and John Hempelmann, president of the foundation, writing in the Seattle Times:

When Washington state’s U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson introduced what became the historic Jackson-Vanik Amendment in 1975, he was aiming squarely at a repressive Soviet Union that denied its citizens the right to free emigration, one of the fundamental human rights the senator greatly valued.

By denying Most Favored Nation trade status to nonmarket economies that restrict emigration, Jackson-Vanik was intended to motivate Soviet leaders to take action and open their borders. And it worked — well more than 1 million people left the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics thanks to the amendment in the 1970s and 1980s.

While the Soviet Union no longer exists, the amendment remains on the books. And Russian President Medvedev and Prime Minister Putin don’t like it. Their message to the U.S. is to prove that the Cold War is over, and repeal what some call a Cold War relic. So why not repeal it?

Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the indomitable Russian human-rights leader and activist for the past 40 years, didn’t mince words when discussing the amendment’s current relevance.

“Don’t give Putin something for nothing … free emigration is the one right we have left,” she said at a February conference in Washington, D.C. The conference on “The Legacy and Consequences of Jackson-Vanik” was held jointly by the Kennan Institute and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation.

The amendment no longer applies to Russia and has no practical bearing on U.S.-Russian trade relations. Russia has a market economy. Jackson-Vanik only targeted emigration, which Russia today allows. Yet the amendment’s symbolic importance to U.S.-Russian political relations as a crucial piece of human-rights legislation remains key. Given the slide of human rights in the past 10 years, to hand Putin a no-strings-attached gift by repealing Jackson-Vanik sends the wrong message to Moscow.

The Kremlin may be benefiting from the reset of relations with the Obama administration, but to date human rights has yet to improve. On the contrary. Journalists and human-rights activists are killed, beaten and intimidated with impunity and most murders remain unsolved. Self-censorship and press controls muzzle criticism of Putin, especially in influential national media outlets.

Furthermore, corruption permeates every branch of government, most notably in the police and judiciary: 50 percent of citizens consider bribing an official the most effective way to get something done in Russian society, according to a recent poll from the Moscow-based Levada Center. Worst of all: abuses continue in the North Caucasus, where a rogue government of the mountainous Chechen Republic acts without the apparent control of any federal authorities and where criminal attacks are left unsolved and uninvestigated. Overall, the rule of law remains under attack. The result: Russian cases comprise 28 percent of the pending cases before the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

At a briefing related to the February conference, a standing room crowd of congressional staffers — most too young to remember the chill of U.S.-Soviet relations — nevertheless immediately got the symbolism inherent in a repeal of Jackson-Vanik during a time of great and growing concern about the status and trends of human rights in Russia. “Whether or not Jackson-Vanik technically relates to Russia today will be lost on my boss and on many other members,” one young staffer predicted. “All he understands is that in Putin’s Russia, human rights are under attack, so why give him something for nothing?”

Repeal of Jackson-Vanik deprives America of a symbolic and essential human-rights tool in foreign policy. Permanently graduating Russia from Jackson-Vanik, on the other hand — while keeping the law on the books — may be inevitable, if Russia is to be granted entry into the World Trade Organization. At the same time, the Obama administration must couple graduation with new resources for Russia’s democratic activists and a forceful statement supporting the human-rights community.

In the tradition of Scoop Jackson’s willingness to take a stand, the final act of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment in U.S.-Russian relations should be to press Russia for meaningful action on its deplorable human-rights record.

16 responses to “Letter to Obama: Don’t repeal Jackson Vanick!

  1. Voice of Reason

    Why should double standard, hypocrisy and deceit permeate all of our American foreign policy? Why can’t USA respect its own law?

    Jackson-Vanik amendment was and is to “deny Most Favored Nation trade status to nonmarket socialist economies that restrict freedom of emigration”. Since 1992, Russia is no longer a nonmarket socialist economy, and since the late 1980s, Russia’s emigration and travel laws and policies are even freer than USA’s. So, insisting that Jackson-Vanik amendment still implies to Russia, is legally invalid.

    Contrast this with Cuba which both remains a nonmarket socialist economy AND restricts freedom of emigration, and yet USA has allowed Cuba to join WTO.

    So, today, Jackson-Vanik amendment has nothing to do with emigration or democracy. It is a weapon in the hands of those forces that don’t want Russia in the WTO.

    Given the slide of human rights in the past 10 years…

    You mean, from 2000 to 2010, under Putin? But human rights were fine in Russia under Yeltsin from, say, 1995 to 1999? Then why wasn’t Jackson-Vanik amendment repealed then? Jackson-Vanik amendment was kept in force even when Russia behaved like a liberal Western democracy. So, let’s stop lying that Russia can get it repealed by acting nicely. Jackson-Vanik amendment will be repealed only when the last American cold warrior is buried.

    … to hand Putin a no-strings-attached gift by repealing Jackson-Vanik sends the wrong message to Moscow.

    But strings are attached. In return for USA lowering its anti-Russian rhetoric, Russia is both supporting US sanctions against Iran and lowers its own rhetoric about the flagrant American human rights abuses in places like Iraq and Guantanamo.

    • Your comment about the time “when Russia behaved like a liberal Western democracy” is like comic relief. Or you are saying these incredibly stupid things out of your famous “contrarian spirit.” Do you even believe yourself in what you are saying?

      Don’t worry about this. Most favorite nation status only applies to selling things in the U.S., and your beloved country has nothing to sell anyway, so what difference will it make if this amendment is or is not repealed.

      • Voice of Reason

        Russia doesn’t care about trade with USA. If USA isn’t anxious to sell its frozen “Bush legs” (chicken legs) to Russia – so be it. But Russia wants to join WTO and is blocked by USA. How come Cuba is in WTO and Russia isn’t?

        • If she does not care about the trade with the U.S., why are you so hot under the collar about the Jackson-Vanick law? This law is relevant to the trade with the U.S. and to nothing else.

          By the way, it is my understanding that those Bush legs helped hundreds of thousands of your fellow Russians during very hard times; well famines and near-famines come and go. I hope, Russian “pride” will make them decline those legs next time they starve. They were not too proud last time.

          As to the WTO, it’s a separate story, so don’t make it appear as if Jackson-Vanick stands in the way. As a totalitarian state Russia should not be allowed in regardless of what happens with that law. It is only the appearance that Russia has the “market economy” not a reality. Gasprom is not a de facto private company, for example.

          And yes, I agree about Cuba (and I would add Zimbabwe and a few other friends of Russia) — I don’t know how they made it, but they should not be in the WTO either

        • Voice of Reason

          RV wrote: “If she does not care about the trade with the U.S., why are you so hot under the collar about the Jackson-Vanick law? This law is relevant to the trade with the U.S. and to nothing else.

          The Jackson-Vanik amendment stands in the way of Russia joining WTO:


          Jackson-Vanik Amendment Under Discussion With U.S.


          Russia’s WTO membership would require Congress to establish permanent normal trade relations with Russia by removing it from the dwindling list of countries subject to trade restrictions under the so-called Jackson-Vanik amendment.


          The Jackson-Vanik amendment was a provision in United States federal law, adopted in 1974, intended to pressure the Soviet Union to allow emigration, especially of refuseniks, Jews, and other religious minorities.

          “As a totalitarian state Russia should not be allowed in regardless of what happens with that law.”

          What do you mean by “totalitarian”? The vast majority of WTO are less democratic than Russia. Communist China is the first to come to mind.

          So, you want to continue to prevent Russia from having free trade with the rest of the World? Then why are you upset when Russia is forced to trade with Iran, Syria, Nicaragua, Venezuela and other countries that USA hates?

          The very reason why Russia has been selling nuclear power plant technology to Iran in the past was because it has been prevented from free trade within the WTO for almost 20 years now!

          Now Russia has voted on further sanctions against Iran. I assure you that even long-bearing Russians have their limit. If USA continues to prevent Russia from free international trade, Russia soon will be forced to return to selling to Iran and Syria every single product and equipment that doesn’t violate international law, including peaceful nucleal energy equipment.

          It is truly bizarre, RV, that you personally want to prevent Russia from free trade, make fun of Russia’s economy not doing as well as it could if it had free trade, and then getting angry when Russia engages in trade with Iran and Syria.

          As a supporter of Israel, I want Russia to join WTO, to trade with peaceful WTO countries, in exchange for promising not to trade with Iran and Syria.

          There are 153 countries in the WTO.Almost everybody is, including the most despicable countries on Earth. Here are some of the countries that are in WTO:

          Angola 23 November 1996
          Bahrain, Kingdom of 1 January 1995
          Brunei Darussalam 1 January 1995
          Burkina Faso 3 June 1995
          Cameroon 13 December 1995
          Chad 19 October 1996
          China 11 December 2001
          Congo 27 March 1997
          Côte d’Ivoire 1 January 1995
          Cuba 20 April 1995
          Guinea 25 October 1995
          Haiti 30 January 1996
          Kuwait 1 January 1995
          Kyrgyz Republic 20 December 1998
          Maldives 31 May 1995
          Myanmar 1 January 1995
          Nicaragua 3 September 1995
          Nigeria 1 January 1995
          Oman 9 November 2000
          Pakistan 1 January 1995
          Qatar 13 January 1996
          Rwanda 22 May 1996
          Saudi Arabia 11 December 2005
          Swaziland 1 January 1995
          Thailand 1 January 1995
          Togo 31 May 1995
          Tunisia 29 March 1995
          Uganda 1 January 1995
          United Arab Emirates 10 April 1996
          Venezuela 1 January 1995
          Viet Nam 11 January 2007
          Zimbabwe 5 March 1995

          • Almost everybody is, including the most despicable countries on Earth

            No ReTaRd, Russia is not there, so it does not have the most despicable country on earth….

            As for Russia stopping trading with Iran and Syria if it joins the WTO, don’t be stupid.

            Russia has a long tradition of supporting violently anti-Jewish states such as Syria, Iraq, and Iran, not to mention supplying weapons to Hezbollah and Hamas, and Russia frequently encouraged, and even participated in, their attempts to destroy the Jewish state (you know, all those “advisors” who ran the SAM systems, and took part in combat operations etc), whereas the US support for countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan has a restraining influence.

            You really are a cretin VOR.

          • And Russia does not intend to respect the sanctions against Iran anyway.

            Russia Says New Sanctions Won’t Affect Missiles Sale To Iran

            The Russian Foreign Ministry says new UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program do not oblige Moscow to abandon a deal to deliver surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

            Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko made that remark after the Interfax news agency cited an unidentified source in Russia’s arms industry as saying Moscow would freeze its unfulfilled contract to sell S-300 missiles to Iran because of the sanctions.

            The Foreign Ministry has also said that Moscow will retaliate if the new UN sanctions lead to separate sanctions against Russian companies or individuals. Russia has long supplied arms to Iran.

            The S-300 missiles deal is controversial as some Western nations fear Iran would use the sophisticated systems to protect its most sensitive nuclear sites from aerial attack.


  2. CBS internet polling is disaster for the Obama administration. (see Roger L Simon at pajamas)

    There is no way the Obama administration can get anything through congress. Democrats and old guard Republican alike are trying just to survive. They would not consider doing anything controversial at this time.

  3. Obama may help pave the way for Russia to join the WTO by removing this piece of legislation, but there is still another stumbling block- all WTO members must agree to Russia’s accession not just the US.

    I hope the UK blocks it; we need to teach Putin a lesson, let this thug know that we won’t tolerate Russian assassins coming to London to poison dissidents with radioactive substances.

    And Georgia can also block it until there sovereign territory is returned, that also applies to Japan who are still waiting for the return of the Kiril islands snatched by the Russians in 1945.

    There are plenty of countries with an axe to grind it only takes one to scupper Russia’s WTO ambitions.

    Putin thinks his new buddy Red Obama can deliver- he can’t, here in the UK a cross party group of 54 MP’s (Conservative, labour, Lib-Dem) meet a few months ago to review the Anglo/US “special relationship” and came to the conclusion it no longer existed and that the UK should follow a more independent foreign policy line…the Russian WTO accession would give us a perfect opportunity.

  4. Stop this idiotic spam! Nobody is reading it

  5. “Permanently graduating Russia from Jackson-Vanik, on the other hand — while keeping the law on the books — may be inevitable, if Russia is to be granted entry into the World Trade Organization.”

    Maybe WTO is a benchmark and not a goal for Russia. Software patents and IP issues that give US fims the upper hand would be a major dealbreaker since these could inhibit the growth of strategic Russian industry. It’s worth noting that Yukos tried to do a strategic tie-up with Microsoft.

  6. Pingback: The Cable: Washington won’t mediate between Russia and Georgia on WTO | Europe Top News

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