Viktor N. Sushkov, deputy minister for foreign trade, an affable, middle-aged man in three- piece pinstripes, could not have been more cordial or, it seemed, less ideological in receiving his American visitors. z He pressed glasses of Pepsi- Cola and hot tea on us. He offered a focused, factual account of Soviet-U.S. trade, which is his special responsibility. He spoke regretfully of the Jackson-Vanik amendment which conditions commerce on Jewish emigration, and of the denial of most-favored- nation trading status to the Soviets.
He gave an example of how difficult it is to deal with the United States: Americans agreed to provide everything for a Soviet jeans factory except computers and control equipment; Japan and West Germany, he said, offered a complete deal.
All went swimmingly until the leader of the party, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) introduced another member, businessman Leonard Farber, who is on the Council for Soviet Jewry, and who asked Sushkov if more Jews would be allowed to leave if Jackson-Vanik were changed.
Sushkov's broad face went blank, and his expertise evaporated.
"I don't know," he said. He gave a demonstrably wrong figure. He said he thought only 11 Jews had been allowed to emigrate in 1985. Farber politely corrected him: 700 went, in contrast to the 50,000 who left in the peak year of 1979.
Sushkov said he might have been wrong and slid into the party line, which is that most of the Jews who wanted to leave the Soviet heaven-on-earth have already left, and that many, on hearing from disenchanted Russian emigrants in Israel, had gotten cold feet.
"They live well here," he said. "There are no obstacles, no restrictions to their leaving under the law."
That, like many other Soviet statements, is both true and not true.
The law may not prohibit emigration. The authorities who adminster it, however, do. To apply for a visa to Israel is to ensure a hellish life, but life in the Soviet Union is hell for Jews, anyway.
A dark, pale young man standing outside Moscow's largest synagogue on Yom Kippur explained why.
He was asked if he wanted to go to Israel, and he said no.
He looked anxiously at the line of soldiers outside the crowded temple and said, "There are too many police, KGB here. Move to the side."
In a relatively quiet corner, he said urgently, "Of course, I want to go, but if I apply, I will lose my job. I was unemployed for six months because on my passport it says Jew. I could not go to Moscow University to study physics because I am Jewish. I had to go to a pedagogical institute, a second-class place. I finally got a job in a laboratory; it is dangerous because of radiation. The chief is Jewish, although his passport says he is Russian. I will give you my name, but you must not print it."
From the temple, we Americans went to a shabby high- rise apartment building on the outskirts of Moscow. In a crowded living room, in the small space left from a grand piano in the corner, we met, by arrangement with the American embassy, a gathering of eight refuseniks.
They freely gave their names. "We have nothing to lose, we don't mind anything."
They were gentle intellectuals, purposeful, informed, resigned to their fate, but not despairing.
One of them, a large ruddy man with a thick gray hair and a full beard, introduced himself as Mark Lvovsky, who was refused 14 years ago. A one-time chemical engineer who lost his job on application for Israel, he now works as a carpenter. He and his wife, a retired medical doctor, have two sons in Philadelphia and five grandchildren whom they have never seen.
He was refused on the grounds that he knew state secrets.
"It is a joke," he said. "I worked in a television laboratory."
The hostess, Marion Ozernoy, a slim, intense, dark-eyed woman whose 7-year-old daughter flitted about with tea and cakes, is a poet.
She lost her job at the Pushkin Museum when she and her husband applied for visas six years ago. She writes poems about the suffering of the refuseniks. They are, of course, "not publishable until I die."
"Many people would like to say those things, but they are mute, like dogs, and I feel I am obliged to do it for them, to tell about the inner tears."
Her husband, Leonid, a theoretical astrophysicist, said the official reason given for the refusal was "inexpedience of the moment," even though his mother and brother were given permission to go in 1979.
When Marion Ozernoy was told the minister's explanation for the decline in emigration -- that exiled Jews in Israel were disenchanted -- she said softly, "Freedom is not for everyone."
"But to say we do not want to go, it's a lie, a very simple lie," she said.
They all approve the Reagan hard line.
They want the United States to keep up the heat on the Soviets.
They were asked why the Soviets are so paranoid about Jews -- not wanting them, but refusing to let them go.
"It is the last century," said one, referring to the anti- Semitism which flourished under the czars.
"No," said another, "it goes further back. It is Mongolian. Revenge is a Mongolian characteristic."
In spite of the harsh, hunted quality of their lives, they go on hoping, because, as Mark Lvovsky said hardily, "it is impossible to live without hope."